Florida's First District Court of Appeal Dismisses State Farm Uninsured Motorist Case - Colodny Fass

Florida's First District Court of Appeal Dismisses State Farm Uninsured Motorist Case

Date Published: 08-12-2016

 

In an Opinion issued yesterday, August 11, 2016, Florida's First District Court of Appeal ("First DCA") determined that it lacked jurisdiction in an appeal involving uninsured motorist coverage issued by State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company ("State Farm").   

To read the Opinion, click here.

The underlying dispute questioned whether State Farm was required to provide coverage under its policy for injuries occurring to the Plaintiff, who was determined to be a "relative" under her parents' policy, while a separate trial on liability and damages against the driver, and possible recovery against the insurer under the policy was still pending.

In its appeal, State Farm claimed the final judgment in the case was appealable as a "partial final judgment" under Rule 9.110(k), Florida Rules of Appellate Procedure, which gives this definition:  "A partial final judgment, other than one that disposes of an entire case as to any party, is one that disposes of a separate and distinct cause of action that is not interdependent with other pleaded claims."

In yesterday's Opinion, the First DCA concluded that the order awarding summary judgment to the insureds on the issue of entitlement to uninsured motorist coverage was not a partial final judgment, and therefore, not appealable where a related claim for uninsured motorist benefits remained pending.

In his dissent, Judge Scott Makar noted that, based on somewhat similar facts, the Second District Court of Appeal ("Second DCA") has found this issue to be a close question, holding that jurisdiction was lacking because of the procedural posture in that case. Because the claims for insurance coverage and damages were included in the same count, Judge Makar wrote, the court viewed the coverage and damages issues as "sufficiently interrelated so that this order cannot be reviewed as a partial final judgment." 

But had a declaratory judgment action "been filed separately" to resolve the coverage issue, the Second DCA concluded that jurisdiction would exist.

"It makes little sense to base jurisdiction on whether two lawsuits are filed versus one," Judge Makar continued.  "The better approach is to determine the extent of dependency between the coverage and damages claims.  Here, the coverage and damages issues were deemed to be independent matters, so much so that a separate bench trial was held first on the former and a discrete 'final judgment' entered; no overlap exists between the issues and evidence, each focusing on entirely different issues.  Accordingly, (State Farm's) appeal should (have been) allowed to proceed."

 

 

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