TAMPA — A U.S. district court has denied an insurer's motion for dismissal in favor of Tampa-area brothers who filed a claim following a fire in a building they owned.
The brothers, Robert and Fred Fox, filed a claim against Starr Indemnity & Liability Co. alleging the insurer acted in bad faith by not paying a claim filed by the pair after a fire destroyed a building they owned.
Starr answered the complaint with a motion before Judge Steven Merryday of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida asking him to dismiss the action because the complaint failed to state a claim for relief.
On April 19, 2014, a building owned by the Fox brothers was set on fire by a vagrant. The Fox brothers submitted a claim to their insurer, Starr.
At some point, the brothers became dissatisfied with the the way the insurer was handling the claim and the company’s slowness in approving a payment for the building's appraised value of $1,057,192.
On Sept. 9, 2014, the brothers filed a Civil Remedy Notice with the Florida Department of Financial Services. Starr countered that the brothers' complaint failed to identify the Florida law it allegedly violated while also failing to state the section of the insurance policy Starr breached
A third-party appraisal service interceded and valued the loss at $930,041.36, and Starr subsequently paid the award, according to court documents. The Fox brothers then sued under bad faith, breach of contract and fraud. The brothers also sought punitive damages.
In his ruling, Merryday dismissed the fraud, breach of contract and punitive damages allegations in the complaint while allowing the bad faith claim to go forward.
“Because insufficient facts support the allegations that Starr 'misrepresented' a fact and that Starr violates Florida law as a 'general business practice,' the misrepresentation allegation in the paragraph and the 'general business practice' allegation in paragraph 26, and the punitive-damages request are stricken,“ Merryday wrote.
The court allowed the bad faith claim to proceed because courts generally insist that bad faith claims are issues that need to be heard by a jury.