Miami Condo Association Sues QBE Insurance Over Hurricane Claims

November 30, 2009

A Miami condominium association is suing its insurer, QBE Insurance Corp., and its Florida general managing agent, for more than $500 million in damages, claiming bad faith and deception in handling hurricane claims.

Daniel S. Rosenbaum, the managing partner of Katzman Garfinkel Rosenbaum, LLP, in West Palm Beach, said his firm obtained a judgment against QBE from a federal court jury trial in February, 2009 for approximately $25 million, plus another $1.75 million being awarded in attorneys’ fees, for Buckley Towers Condominium in Miami.

Rosenbaum said he has now filed another lawsuit in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. This second lawsuit for $500 million is against QBE and its managing general agent, Florida Intracoastal Underwriters Limited Co., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Brown and Brown, Inc. The new lawsuit accuses both companies of engaging in deceptive and fraudulent bad faith claims handling practices as a general business practice, and having a specific intent to injure Buckley Towers while it sought insurance coverage to repair the heavily damaged buildings.

According to the law firm, earlier this year, the Miami-Dade County Unsafe Structures Board condemned as unsafe the two 17-story towers, located at 1321 N.E. Miami Gardens Drive. The buildings were ordered to be demolished in late 2010 unless repaired, which Rosenbaum said cannot be done without the insurance money awarded to Buckley Towers. Buckley Towers has 564 units with more than 1,200 residents.

“QBE, as a business decision, decided to let the buildings be condemned and physically torn down, and the residents forced out of their homes,” the lawsuit states. “These condemnation proceedings would have been avoided had QBE fairly and honestly adjusted the claim.”

The lawsuit alleges that QBE, in concert with Florida Intracoastal Underwriters, intentionally delays and fails to settle valid claims because it can “take advantage of the socioeconomic conditions of residents,” the lawsuit states, “and the inability of residents to raise the money to make the repairs.”

Rosenbaum said QBE issued a hurricane insurance policy in May, 2005 to Buckley Towers. Hurricane Wilma struck the two Y-shaped, lakefront towers on October 24, 2005. The condominium association notified the insurer of extensive damage to roofs, windows, sliding glass doors, as well as extensive structural damage to the buildings. The association filed a federal lawsuit for its losses when QBE refused to pay any part of its claim, according to the attorney.

In the new lawsuit, Buckley Towers states that Florida Intracoastal Underwriters and QBE hired as its contact person an estimator whose Florida insurance adjustor’s license was revoked for failing to disclose felonies, including one for insurance fraud. The company also retained engineers and inspectors “in an attempt to minimize the damages that Buckley Towers sustained,” and has done this routinely, as a business practice, to communities all over Florida.

According to the lawsuit, “QBE continued to insist that the damages were simply wear and tear, pre-existing or non-existent conditions.”

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