Donna Waters Romero and Carlton Bober
Donna Waters Romero and Carlton Bober (Melanie Bell)

Case: Horizons West Condo No 8 Assn v. Citizens Property Insurance

Case no: 10-51970CA

Description: Breach of contract

Filing date: Sept. 24, 2010

Trial dates: Feb. 6-12, 2014

Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Peter Lopez

Plaintiff attorneys: Michael Schiffrin and Jessica Schriffin, Schiffrin Law Firm, Miami

Defense attorneys: Carl Bober and Donna Waters Romero, Vernis & Bowling of Broward, Hollywood

Jury award: For the defense

Details: In June 2010, Horizons West Condominium No. 8 Association Inc., a 96-unit Miami condo association, gave Citizens Property Insurance Corp. notice of a claim for windstorm damage from Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The claim was denied.

Horizons West sued for breach of contract because Citizens failed to pay for windstorm losses that it claimed were covered by its commercial property policy.

Citizens made a proposal for settlement, which was rejected, defense attorney Carl Bober said.

Plaintiffs case: Horizons West sought damages of more than $2.6 million. The association claimed roof damage required its replacement, according to the court record. The association also claimed water intrusion required significant water extraction and other damages.

Miami engineer Al Brizuela, the key plaintiffs expert witness, testified the building sustained classic patterns of windstorm damage.

Frank Inguanzo, the plaintiffs public adjuster, testified the claim was promptly filed once it was determined damage was due to Hurricane Wilma.

Michael Schiffrin said his client had to overcome a presumption in the law in favor of Citizens that the insurer was prejudiced by the delayed claim.

“Citizens maintained that since they did not have an opportunity to inspect the damages, which included the roof, until after the notice they were prejudiced as they were unable to specifically determine what damages were from the storm,” he said.

Defense case: Citizens argued the association failed to timely report its loss. In addition, the association made numerous major repairs before filing the claim, hampering the company’s ability to fairly investigate and evaluate damages blamed on the hurricane, Bober said.

Defense witness and engineer John Carroll testified he didn’t see any windstorm damage and couldn’t evaluate what might have been damaged by Wilma. He also noted there was incomplete documentation of the repairs, some of which had no paper trail.

In addition, there was testimony that the association knew before Wilma that roof replacement was required. Evidence was brought in that the association’s property manager recommended the roof be replaced several months before the hurricane.

“Doubt was cast as to the age of the roof,” Bober said. “The association contended it was 13 years old when it was replaced after Wilma, but there were no city building repair records. However, the property manager’s testimony was that the roof was original, dating back to the 1980s and had exceeded its useful life.”

Outcome: The jury decided the association did not meet its burden of proving Citizens was not prejudiced.

Comments: “While the judge did tell the jury they were to presume the insurer was prejudiced, it was a rebuttable presumption,” Bober said.

Post-verdict: Lopez entered a final judgment order Feb. 24 stating Horizons West would receive nothing. He reserved jurisdiction to decide the amount of defense attorney fees and costs to be awarded. Horizons West chose not to appeal.