A Kissimmee hotel that Hurricanes Charley, Frances and Jeanne walloped in 2004 settled a bad-faith lawsuit mid-trial for an undisclosed amount with its Connecticut-based insurance company.
While the total was confidential, the settlement reached last week was in the seven figures. General Star Indemnity Co. initially paid $1.4 million to repair the damaged Travelodge. The Stamford, Connecticut-based insurer maintained its initial $1.4 million estimate was the correct payout, but the hotel wanted $4.5 million more for repairs and $1 million in lost business revenue.
"They did an estimate before any work was done. We said it’s impossible for an estimate to be correct," said Mark Mintz of Mintz, Truppman in North Miami, who represented hotel owner Atlantic Hospitality of Florida LLC with associate Cheryl Riess and co-counsel Ray Abadin, a partner in Sedgwick’s Miami office.
The complaint was filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 2009, removed to federal court — improperly, Mintz said — and bounced to the Third District Court of Appeal twice. The trial opened May 20 and ended May 28.
Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel "was at least the third or fourth trial judge," Mintz said.
Don Glorius, a waterproofer who has worked for Walt Disney World and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, testified for the plaintiff that waterproofing the storm-ravaged hotel took two years.
"Both sides had experts from all over," Mintz said. "It was the usual knockdown, drag-out fight with an insurance company."
Marcos Fintz, owner of Atlantic Hospitality, said in court documents the Travelodge closed Aug. 13, 2004, when Charley struck.
"Business operations were partially getting back towards normal in approximately March 2007," Fintz said. "However, this did not represent ‘normal business operations’ as not all guest rooms were yet able to be let, and only about one-half of the lobby was usable."
Atlantic Hospitality claimed General Star’s failure to timely pay its property damage claim delayed repairs at the Travelodge on East Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway.
"Consequently, hundreds of rooms that could have been rented to guests remained closed for a needlessly long period of time," Fintz said.
Partners Evelyn Merchant and Melissa Sims and associate Scott Janowitz of Berk, Merchant & Sims in Coral Gables, represented General Star. Janowitz said their client had no comment on the settlement, trial or case.
The Kissimmee hotel, which Atlantic Hospitality bought in a 2003 foreclosure sale, was sold in October for $17.1 million to Miami-based BF Atlantic LLC, according to Osceola County property records. It has been rebranded the Clarion Resort & Waterpark.
Atlantic Hospitality raised claims for breach of contract, a declaratory judgment and breach of good faith and fair dealing.
At issue, Mintz said, were General Star’s adjusting practices, normally not in the province of breach of contract claims. But Atlantic Hospitality’s coverage said the insurer would pay the "actual, adjusted amount of loss," Mintz said. "When they put the word ‘adjusted’ in their policy, how can they say ‘adjusted’ is not relevant?"
At one point Third District Judge Vance Salter scolded the plaintiffs team for trying to depose General Star’s chief executive officer.
"Trial and appellate counsel for the insured are too sophisticated and experienced to believe that a preprinted signature on a standard form policy would subject the Connecticut-based president of the insurer to a deposition," Salter wrote in a 2011 opinion. "Discovery is intended to be part of the ‘just, speedy and inexpensive’ determination of disputes — not a device to get greater attention at an adversary’s headquarters."
Mintz said resolution of his client’s case was a timely reminder of the pace of justice as the 2013 hurricane season begins.
"Even though there hasn’t been a storm, we’re still finishing up claims" from 2004, he said.