There are tons of questions on an application for homeowners insurance. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes filling out paperwork. Sometimes homeowners simply check the wrong box and sometimes their agents do not ask them the right questions. Regardless, to err is human.
But those little mistakes can have huge consequences. And your insurer may try to capitalize on that mistake. In fact, checking the wrong box could mean you have no coverage after your home is damaged. For years, I have witnessed insurance companies engaging in the practice of post-loss underwriting. What I mean by that it is rather than verify the accuracy of the information in an application after receiving it; an insurer will simply collect premiums from a homeowner for years or even decades. Then, when the homeowner suffers a loss, the insurer will go back to the application, find a mistake on the application, and take the position that the policy is void due to the misrepresentation on the application.
Florida Statute § 627.409 allows insurance companies to declare policies void if, on the applications for the policies, there was a misrepresentation, omission, concealment or statement that is fraudulent or material to either the acceptance of the risk or the hazard assumed by the insurer. Insurance companies have been able to either avoid coverage entirely or get homeowners to accept pennies on the dollar to settle their claim by finding mistakes on the application and filing a self-serving affidavit that simply states, if the companies had known about the mistakes, they would not have issued the policies or would have charged a different amount for them.
Yesterday, in Mora v. Tower Hill Prime Ins. Co., the Second District Court of Appeal put an end to those shenanigans. In reversing the lower court’s summary judgment based upon facts similar to those discussed above, Judge Altenbernd noted that in cases lacking fraud, the explanation as to why in insurer would not have issued coverage needed to include why “in good faith” and “pursuant to a policy or requirement or other requirement” it would not have issued the policy or would not have issued it under the same terms. This may put an end to some of the gotcha games, and make insurance companies prove that they actually would have acted differently had they known the correct information. However, homeowners should be careful to review their applications and ensure that all the information provided is correct. Otherwise, those mistakes could end up costing them.
By, Aaron S. Kling, Esq.