LAKELAND, Fla. – The Second District Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial in a breach of contract case against Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.
The court found in a March 9 ruling that homeowner Michael Daskalopoulos was deprived of a fair trial after details about his foreclosure proceedings were included in the opening statement of a civil lawsuit about a sinkhole.
Daskalopoulos filed a complaint alleging breach of contract after Citizens Property Insurance denied his claim that his house in Tampa had sustained sinkhole damage that was covered under his insurance policy. But Citizens Property denied the claim in 2012, saying the damage wasn’t because of a sinkhole. The company determined the damage, which included cracking in the driveway floor and walls, was the result of some other excluded clause in the policy.
During trial, the issue of Daskalopoulos’ foreclosure came up when Citizen Property's attorney mentioned that Daskalopoulos stopped paying his mortgage around the same time he made the claim. The issue came up again during cross-examination and when the jury asked a question about whether his current policy was an upgrade from the one he had when he purchased the home in 2006.
The court declined to allow the question, but Daskalopoulo’s attorney moved for a mistrial saying, “This is turning into a case about why he filed for foreclosure. It has nothing to do with the sinkhole case.”
The trial court denied the motion and the jury later returned a verdict in favor of Citizens Property, finding there was no damage to the house during the policy period. The jury never reached a verdict on whether the house’s damage resulted from a sinkhole. Daskalopoulos filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the insertion of his foreclosure was an issue before the jury deprived him of a fair trial.
In its decision to order a retrial, the appeal court noted that Daskalopoulos’ foreclosure had nothing to do with the insurance coverage dispute about whether a sinkhole damaged his home. “The fact that Mr. Daskalopoulos may have been in arrears on his house’s mortgage was no more relevant to this sinkhole dispute than the house’s paint color,” the court said.