A team of attorneys at Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin won $5.6 million for musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan’s hotel company after a nearly 15-year dispute with an insurer over hurricane damage at the superstars’ luxury Vero Beach resort.
Ver Ploeg shareholders Stephen A. Marino Jr. and Rochelle N. Wimbush and associate Arya A. Li represented the Estefans’ company, Pin-Pon Corp., in hard-fought litigation that included two trials against Landmark American Insurance Co., which supplemented the primary insurance policy on the hotel.
“It’s been a long interesting ride,” Marino said. “This was the second trial on these 2004 hurricane claims, and the second time that a trier of fact has wholly rejected the insurance company’s position and awarded Pin-Pon all the damages that were requested.”
The litigants have been fighting over damages for a multimillion-dollar insurance claim stemming from hurricane damage.
“Our clients are very pleased that the judge listened to and appreciated the credibility and thoroughness of the testimony and evidence presented on Pin-Pon’s behalf,” Marino said.
In December, the Ver Ploeg attorneys secured the seven-figure final judgment, but could still face posttrial motions.
“It took us from January of 2015 to April of 2017 to get the case back to trial on that one damage issue,” Marino said. “This case will be almost 15 years in the making when it’s finally completed.”
The case involved high-profile South Floridians. The Estefans are Cuban-born, Miami-based entertainers who rose to international stardom in the 1980s and ’90s with chart-topping songs such as “Conga” and “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You.” Their business ventures include Costa d’Este Resort, a beachfront resort acquired in June 2004, months before Hurricanes Jeanne and Frances ravaged Florida.
At the time it purchased the property, formerly called Palm Court, Pin-Pon planned renovations, but intended to keep the hotel open during these upgrades. It was forced to change direction after the two major natural disasters.
The company held primary coverage with Lexington Insurance Co. and an excess commercial property insurance policy with Landmark American to cover damage beyond Lexington’s $2.5 million limit.
Pin-Pon rebuilt the hotel while negotiating with its insurance carriers. It performed all repairs, upgraded the resort to meet the latest building code requirements, and reopened the property in June 2008.
The details and cost of these upgrades would spark years of litigation, with Landmark’s pleadings suggesting the hotelier made lavish additions — beyond code requirements — for which the insurer should not be held responsible. The parties ended up in court over Pin-Pon’s claims for roughly $8 million.
Lexington paid Pin-Pon its full $2.5 million policy limit for the Hurricane Frances claim and more than $533,924 for Jeanne. Landmark paid less than $2.1 million for the first hurricane and nothing for the second, because Lexington had not paid the policy limit on the claim for Hurricane Jeanne.
Pin-Pon sued Landmark in 2009 for breach of contract on the Frances claim, and filed a separate action against both insurers over coverage for Hurricane Jeanne. The trial court consolidated the cases, and held a three-week trial.
The jury returned an award of nearly $903,000 for Pin-Pon for additional building damages and nearly $1.5 million for code upgrades. It also awarded $3.6 million after finding Hurricane Frances had caused a 15-month disruption to the hotel’s business.
The state appellate court ruling that followed that trial showed the lower court denied Landmark’s posttrial motions, and entered an amended final judgment for more than $5.8 million in Pin-Pon’s favor, plus attorneys fees and costs.
Further appeals would work in the Estefans’ favor, which had initially sought $6.2 million in damages.
“This is kind of the irony,” Marino said. “The jury only initially awarded $1.5 million in code upgrade expenses. [Landmark] could have just paid the $1.5 million way back when, but they took the appeal and ended up with a worse result. Better for my client but worse for them.”
Case: Pin-Pon v. Landmark American Insurance
Case no.: 2009 3120 CA 01 consolidated with 312009CA012244
Description: Breach of contract
Filing date: Feb. 4, 2009
Verdict date: Dec. 28, 2017
Judge: Paul B. Kanarek
Plaintiffs attorneys: Stephen A. Marino Jr., Rochelle N. Wimbush and Arya Attari Li
Defense attorney: Lauren D. Levy, Levy Law Group, Coral Gables
Verdict amount: $5.64 million