Citizen’s Property Insurance Bad Faith Sinkhole Defense Strategy Again Rejected by Hillsborough County Jury

Austin & Laurato’s Tradition of Community Involvement
February 11, 2013
Firm lawyer, Michael Laurato, Again Holds Citizens Accountable for Sinkhole Loss in Front of Hillsborough County Jury
September 30, 2013

In mid-July 2013, firm attorney Michael Laurato, was again brought on to try a sinkhole case against Citizens Property Insurance Company.  Over the past year, Citizens has implemented an agressive business practice in all sinkhole clams that is aimed at low-balling rightful claims, intimidating insureds, and out-right threatening to financially ruin insureds, whose homes have been damaged by sinkhole activity.  Citizens is able to engage in these bad faith tactics with impunity, because they boast that they are immune from Florida’s Bad Faith Practices statute. 

In what has become an all-to-familiar and sad scenario, Citizens denied German Alvarez and Luz Marroquin’s sinkhole claim.  German and Luz immigrated to the United States from Columbia.  Shortly after their arrival, the married couple’s youngest son was tragically killed by a drunk driver in an automobile accident.  The couple used some of the insurance proceeds from the tragic accident to purchase a rental property in Ybor City, Tampa’s historic latin quarter.  They insured the property with Citizens, who inpected the property pre-insurance and noticed no damage.  Several years later, German noticed that the floor had suddenly become unlevel and he made a claim with Citizens.  Citizens denied the claim, and despite having previously inspected the property and knowing that that confirmed sinkhole activity was in close proximity to the property, asserted that the damage was due to the age of the structure, not sinkhole activity. Citizens maintained its denial and, as is its practice, forced German and Luz to trial, under the threat that Citizens would ruin them with attorney’s fees and costs.  Citizens confidently rejected any and all settlement offers–laughing off any attempts at settlement, even those made during the trial.  Prior to the real trial, Citizens mock-tried the case, using its substituted team of professional trial witness and felt confident that the case would be won.

The real trial of German and Luz’ sinkhole commenced in mid-July in Hillsborough County, Florida.  Firm attorney, Michael Laurato and A. Lee Smith of the Thompson Trial Group were committed to holding Citizens accountable and exposing Citizens’ wrongful denial of the claim.  After a hard-fought, four day trial, Michael Laurato presented closing arguments to the jury.  About twenty minutes later, the jury rejected Citizens defenses and found in favor of German and Luz.  The couple was not only relieved, but happy that the home that represented the memory of their son would now be repaired.  But, Citizens has indicated that it does not accept the jury’s verdict and plans an appeal.  Firm partner, Michael Laurato, who, besides being one of the most experienced sinkhole trial lawyers in the state is also an experienced appellate practitioner, has agreed to handle any appeal.

“I am just so grateful for this jury’s attention and verdict.  Of all the cases I have tried, this jury was incredibly conscientious–they asked over 30 questions of the witnesses during the course of the trial. Luz and German had so much on the line and Citizens–as usual–simply tried to bully them.  I don’t know when those tactics are going to stop and I have pleaded with Citizens to change, but my pleas have fallen on deaf ears.  Hopefully, this jury’s verdict will resonate with them–bad faith insurances practices and low-balling insureds won’t be tolerated by the people of this state.  As long as they keep it up, I’m committed to fighting against Citizens’ practices, any time, and in any courtroom, any place in the state of Florida,” said firm attorney Michael Laurato.  “My hope is that by exposing Citizens’ unfair treatment of its insureds perhaps change in the way they treat people will result,”  Michael Laurato concluded.