Generally speaking, Florida state courts have the authority and the jurisdiction to oversee civil lawsuits pertaining to car accidents that happen in this state. However, as the recent case of Erie Insurance v. Larose reveals, a tricky matter of personal jurisdiction of an insurer may force a plaintiff to pursue their claim in a federal courtroom.
In the Larose case, the question was whether an out-of-state auto insurance company that issued a policy to an insured out-of-state:
- Met the criteria for Florida’s long-arm jurisdiction statute in F.S. 48.193;
- Had a sufficient number of contacts with Florida so that subjecting it to jurisdiction in Florida courts wouldn’t offend constitutional due process.
While the court found Florida’s long-arm statute was applicable, it could not find that plaintiff proved defendant had a sufficient number of Florida contacts.
According to court records (with the following facts not disputed), defendant is a company based in Pennsylvania. It is not licensed to issue insurance policies in Florida. Neither does it have any offices here and it doesn’t write policies or seek out business here. However, it issued a policy to a toy storage company in Wisconsin, where insurer was licensed to do business. The vehicles to be insured would primarily be garaged in Wisconsin. Still, the coverage – which included uninsured/ underinsured motorist benefits – was to extend to auto accidents that occurred anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.
In 2013, someone from the company drove one of the insured vehicles to Florida. While the vehicle was in this state, someone gave plaintiff permission to drive that vehicle. No one disputes that plaintiff was driving the insured vehicle in Florida with insured’s permission. While plaintiff was driving the vehicle in Pinellas County, he was involved in a car accident and suffered injuries.
Subsequently, plaintiff filed a claim for underinsured motorist benefits under defendant’s policy. Defendant denied the claim on the grounds plaintiff’s injuries didn’t exceed the limits of the at-fault driver’s liability coverage. Plaintiff disagreed and filed a lawsuit in Florida state court against the insurer, seeking recovery of those UIM benefits.
In response, insurer moved to dismiss, arguing Florida courts lacked personal jurisdiction over it.
Our injury lawyers understand at that point, plaintiff at that point needed to prove that defendant engaged in conduct that fell within the long-arm jurisdiction statute and also that defendant had minimum Florida contacts. Trial court sided with plaintiff and denied defense motion to dismiss.
With regard to the long-arm jurisdiction statute, the appeals court ruled there was case-linked jurisdiction.Specifically, whether the payment of first-party policy benefits is due to plaintiff in Florida, where the contract doesn’t specify where the place of payment should occur. Generally, when no place of performance is indicated in the policy, payment should be made where insured resides (and that’s the general rule in Wisconsin as well as Florida). In this case, because plaintiff resides in Florida, he made a sufficient case that payment was owed in Florida.
However, the appeals court ruled plaintiff faltered on the minimum contacts issue. Here, insurer is based in Pennsylvania and issued a policy to a company in Wisconsin for vehicles that were primarily going to be operated there. Thus, the insurer did nothing that would purposely avail itself of conducting business in Florida. The fact that its insured allowed plaintiff, a Florida resident, to drive an insured vehicle in Florida – an act solely taken on by the insured – doesn’t provide the minimum contacts to satisfy the statute.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Erie Insurance v. Larose , Oct. 19, 2016, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal
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