Author Archives: Bailey Lowther

Increase in Circuit Courts’ Jurisdictional Amount

Since 1992, the Florida circuit courts have had original jurisdiction over civil lawsuits seeking more than $15,000 in damages. But on May 24, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed CS/CS/HB 337, which raises the county courts’ maximum jurisdictional amount from $15,000 to $30,000, effective January 1, 2020. CS/CS/HB 337 further provides that the county courts’ maximum jurisdictional amount will rise an additional $20,000, to $50,000 in three years’ time, on January 1, 2023.

CS/CS/HB 337 has received remarkably little attention. With less than two weeks until the bill takes effect, no one (including members of the Florida Legislature) appears to have made any serious effort to study how the change in jurisdictional amount is likely to affect the operation of the county and circuit courts. Clearly the county courts will handle more cases while the circuit courts will handle less. What is not clear is how the shift in the number of cases before the respective courts will affect the litigants.

Small business disputes alone will probably place a significant additional burden on the county courts, particularly in the Sarasota area, which is home to numerous small and growing businesses. (Earlier this year, Go.Verizon ranked Sarasota second on its list of “Best Small Cities to Start a Small Business.”)

Disputes arising out of automobile accidents are also likely to impact the Sarasota and other county courts. In 2018, according to the Sheriff’s Office, Sarasota County alone had over 12,000 automobile crashes. Many of those crashes result in litigation, much of which has been filed in the county courts.  But as of January 1, 2020, a large number of car crash cases that would have been filed in circuit court will go to county court instead.

The presumptive decrease in pending cases bodes well for circuit court litigants; among other things, litigants may find more available hearing and trial dates. For county court litigants, however, the outlook is considerably more grim. The county courts may be overwhelmed by an influx of new cases, resulting in crowded courtrooms, a backlog of cases and lengthy wait times for hearings and trials. Accordingly, anyone contemplating or planning to file a civil lawsuit in which the amount of money damages at issue is between $15,000 and $30,000 should seriously consider filing suit on or before December 31, 2019.

Bailey S. Lowther
(941) 552-2565
blowther@williamsparker.com

Insuring Against the Cost of Compliance: Ordinance and Law Coverage in Florida

Florida is the most expensive state in the country for home insurance, with annual premiums well over twice the national average. Although little can be done to change the high cost of insurance, you can take steps to ensure your premium dollars are well spent. Among other things, your insurance should include coverage for any increase in repair or construction costs as necessary to comply with the Florida Building Code.

The fact that your home may be relatively new or newly renovated does not eliminate the need for such coverage. The Florida Building Code, which governs the design, construction, and repair of buildings throughout the state, is updated every three years. The 7th Edition of the Florida Building Code will go into effect in just over a year, on or about December 31, 2020. As a result, previously completed construction may no longer be in compliance with the building code.

In the course of day to day life this lack of compliance poses no problem; the building code applies only to new construction, not existing buildings. If, however, an existing building is damaged, by fire, flood or some other catastrophic event, repairs are typically required to comply with the current building code. Moreover, if the damage is substantial, i.e., the cost of the repairs exceeds 50 percent of the building’s value, the entire building must be brought into compliance with the current building code.

The cost of compliance can be significant, especially for an older home. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, builders estimate that compliance with the building code can add as much as 45 percent to the price of a home in some parts of Florida.

Traditionally insurance policies contained an Ordinance or Law Exclusion, pursuant to which the insurer is not responsible for additional costs incurred to comply with current building code laws and regulations. But in 1992, Hurricane Andrew provided a devastating illustration of the burden such exclusions can impose as many South Florida homeowners discovered the cost of rebuilding in compliance with the building code exceeded the coverage available under their insurance policies.

The Florida Legislature responded by enacting legislation intended to provide protection against the increased costs of code compliance. Signed into law in 1993, Section 627.7011 of the Florida Statutes requires insurers to offer law and ordinance coverage in the amount of 25 percent of dwelling coverage. In 2005, Section 627.7011 was amended to require insurers to offer law and ordinance coverage in the amount of 25 percent or 50 percent of dwelling coverage and include a description of law and ordinance coverage and flood insurance in 18-point bold type. According to the legislature, the required language is intended to encourage policyholders to purchase sufficient insurance coverage and discuss options such as law and ordinance and flood coverage with their agents.

As of 2019, many Florida insurers automatically include 25 percent law and ordinance coverage in their homeowner insurance policies while offering the policyholders the option of purchasing 50 percent law and ordinance coverage.  Other insurers, however, do not build law and ordinance coverage into their policies, choosing instead to offer policyholders the option of purchasing such coverage. Another approach, seen most often in policies intended to cover high-value properties, includes law and ordinance coverage in the amount of 50 percent, while offering a reduction in premium for policyholders selecting a lesser amount.

In an environment that frequently seems to favor the insurer over the insured, the availability of law and ordinance coverage is a rare boon to Florida property owners. Make sure you take advantage and verify that your property insurance includes such coverage in the appropriate amounts.

Bailey S. Lowther
(941) 552-2565
blowther@williamsparker.com