Star Indemnity v. Morris – Boating Injury Prompts Nonjoinder Insurance Dispute

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reports an average of 420 boating injuries every year in Florida, ranging from cuts and bruises to broken bones and serious head, neck and spinal injuries.
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While many news reports focus on injuries suffered by individuals who fall or are tossed overboard, those who suffer falls inside the vessel may sustain equally severe trauma. Depending on the circumstances, there may be grounds to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the owner and/or operator of the vessel in which the injury occurred.

One such case recently before Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal, Starr Indemnity & Liability Co. v. Morris, deals with the kind of insurance wrangling that can spin out of cases like these. It serves as yet another example of why it’s critical to secure the aid of an experienced legal team before pursuing such a case.

According to court records, the insurance company in question provided coverage to a company that allowed customers to board its vessel in order to engage in various types of sport fishing. The company carried an insurance policy that covered a variety of different losses, including coverage in the event a customer was injured on board, barring certain exclusions.

In the summer of 2013, plaintiff booked a reservation on the boat and stepped aboard with her granddaughter. However, she reportedly slipped and fell as she stepped aboard, landing on a bucket placed on the deck of the ship. As a result, she suffered “substantial injury.”

In the months that followed, plaintiff filed a negligence action against the company and the captain, and a breach of contract claim against the boating company’s insurer.

The breach of contract claim stems not from the fact the insurer provides liability coverage for which it may ultimately be responsible to pay to plaintiff if insured is deemed negligent. Rather, the claim stems form the allegation by plaintiff that she is an “omnibus insured” under the insurer’s medical coverage clause, which would mean she would be entitled to recover medical costs directly from the insurer.

The insurance company filed a motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim, pointing to the state’s nonjoinder statute, F.S. 627.4136. The law essentially holds insurance companies can’t be joined as defendants in a tort lawsuit against its insured until a verdict or settlement is reached.

Trial court denied the motion, arguing the nonjoinder statute was inapplicable because plaintiff was arguing she was an insured with direct action. Trial court denied a motion for reconsideration, and defendant insurer appealed to the 3rd DCA.

The appellate court ruled it would have been proper for the trial court to severe the two claims because a breach of contract claim, while not necessarily improper, should have been filed separately from the negligence lawsuit.

These are the kinds of complications that can arise in an otherwise seemingly straightforward case. Boating and tourist injuries can be serious, and it’s important to trust your case to a firm committed to ensuring the case is handled properly and your rights are protected.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Starr Indemnity & Liability Co. v. Morris, Jan. 7, 2015, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Colombo v. BRP US, Inc. – Boat Injury Verdict Upheld, Nov. 30, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Boat Injury Lawyer Blog