Federal Court Ruling On Florida Statute Of Limitations

In a recent case, Aspen Specialty Insurance Company argued that the May 2011 changes to the Florida statute of limitations applied retroactively to bar a condominium association’s Hurricane Wilma claim.1

West Palm Gardens claims to have suffered over $2 million in damages to its property from Hurricane Wilma. Aspen initially acknowledged coverage for the loss and assigned a claim number and insurance adjuster to the loss; but Aspen determined that the damages were below the policy deductible. West Palm Gardens disputed Aspen’s determination and invoked the policy’s appraisal clause to resolve the apparent disagreement over the actual amount of the loss. West Palm Gardens alleged that Aspen failed to name its appraiser and proceed with the appraisal process in breach of the policy. West Palm Gardens filed suit against Aspen on October 31, 2011, raising a claim for breach of contract and a claim for declaratory relief, asking the Court declare that Aspen is required to name an appraiser and proceed with the appraisal process. Aspen moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice, arguing the claims are time-barred by the statute of limitations.

The Court noted that the applicable Florida statute of limitations for an action on a contract, such as an insurance policy, is five years.2 Aspen argued that the period of limitations began to run from October 24, 2005, and expired five years later, on October 24, 2010. Aspen argued that since the action was not filed until October 31, 2011, it should be dismissed.

Both parties acknowledged the current version of the statute, was signed into law on May 17, 2011, added subsection (e) and its designation of the “date of loss” as the date from which the limitations period runs. Prior versions of the statute did not expressly provide the date from which the five-year limitation period ran. The Court had to decide “whether it is appropriate to apply the now-effective version of § 95.11(2), with its ‘date of-loss’ designation, retroactively to the policy and events in question.”

After performing a two part analysis, the Court found no clear legislative intent within the statute and commentary that the legislature intended the changes to apply retroactively. West Palm Garden’s claim is governed by the version of § 95.11(2) that was in effect at the time that the policy was executed, prior to the May 17, 2011, amendment. Under then existing Florida law, the five-year limitations period began to run on the accrual of West Palm Gardens’ cause of action, which occurred when the last element constituting the cause of action occurred. That was when Aspen denied coverage for West Palm Gardens’ claim by refusing to proceed with the appraisal process under the policy. The Court held that it “cannot find as a matter of law that West Palm’s claims are clearly time-barred on the face of its Complaint.”
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1 West Palm Gardens Villas Condo. Association, Inc. v. Aspen Specialty Ins. Co., 2012 WL 3017083 (S.D. Fla. June 25, 2012).
2 Fla. Stat. § 95.11(2)(b).

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