Hernando County Couple’s Sinkhole Damaged Home Saved After Jury Verdict Rejects Insurer’s Denial by Michael V. Laurato

On February 8, 2012, Austin & Laurato, P.A. partner, Michael V. Laurato, along with Tom Thomspon of the Thompson Trial Group, P.A. won a significant verdict against property insurance company, Tower Hill Prime Insurance, for the wrongful denial of Carlos and Evelyn Zena’s sinkhole claim.  After a hard-fought trial, Michael Laurato convinced the Hernando County jury to reject Tower Hill’s defenses, which were based in part on a state appointed neutral evaluator’s no-sinkhole recommendation, which the insurer confidently believed would result in the Zena’s recovering nothing.

Carlos, originally from New York, and his wife, Evelyn, relocated to Hernando County after Carlos retired from the New York Police Department.  The couple was involved in every step of the construction of their new home, and watched the home being built from the ground up.  The home was completed in 2004, the couple moved in, and began to enjoy their retirement years in their new home. 

In late 2008, the couple began to notice serious cracks to the walls, ceiling, and foundation of the home.  Suspecting their Spring Hill home was being affected by sinkhole activity and unable to ignore the worsening damage, the couple notified their insurer.  Tower Hill denied the claim, stating that sinkhole activity was not a cause of damage to the home. 

After having their case rejected by several law firms, the Zena’s consulted with Tom Thompson of the Thompson Trial Group about filing a suit for the insurance company’s wrongful denial and to force Tower Hill to repair the property.  For many months the Thompson Trial Group conducted discovery to demonstrate the wrongful denial and flawed opinion of the neutral evaluator.  Tower Hill, nevertheless, persisted in its claim denial.  As the case approached trial, Michael Laurato was retained to try the case. 

Michael Laurato presented the Zena’s case to a Hernando County jury.  The case presented by Michael Laurato was so compelling that the jury needed less than 30 minutes to reach a unanimous verdict for the Zenas.  The jury verdict means that the Zena’s home will be fully repaired and the Zena’s can enjoy their retirement knowing that their dream home will be safe from future sinkhole-related damage. 

The principal amount of the judgment was $375,000, plus over $69,000 in interest.  Michael Laurato commented after the trial:  “I just so pleased that I was able to communicate with this jury in a meaningful way and that my clients’ problem is resolved.  There was so much riding on this case. If we would have lost, Carlos and Evelyn would have been ruined. They put everything they had worked for their whole lives into this home and it was crumbling.  I’m glad they get there home fixed and can move on with their lives.  As always, I am grateful and thankful for the conscientious work of the jurors on this case. These are complex cases.”