In Florida, as in other states, failure to give an insurer timely notice of a loss can provide an insurer with a potential basis for denying a valid claim. Ideal Mut. Ins. Co. v. Waldrep, 400 So.2d 782, 785 (Fla. 3d DCA 1981). This can be a harsh result for policyholders, but, as I mentioned last week, some jurisdictions such as Florida hold that the late notice must prejudice the insurer as well.
To make an initial determination that notice is late in Florida, a court generally must look at whether the policy provisions for notice have been complied with and whether the timing of the notice was reasonable under the circumstances of the case. See Waldrep at 785.
If it is determined that notice is late, it does not always provide a valid reason for not paying the claim. In Florida, late notice must prejudice the insurer in order to deny coverage. If the insurer has not been prejudiced by the late notice, the claim should be paid.
While this requirement does provide some protection for policyholders, proving that there is no prejudice is not always as easy as it seems. In Florida, late notice creates a rebuttable presumption of prejudice to the insurer. Bankers Ins. Co. v. Macias, 475 So.2d 1216 (Fla.1985). This means that from the beginning, the insurer is presumed to have been prejudiced by the late notice and the burden is on the policyholder to prove otherwise.
The main prejudice that an insured must overcome occurs when the late notice substantially affects the insurer’s ability to investigate a claim. For instance, if a policyholder does not notify the insurance company of damage to a roof, passing time may worsen the condition and the insurer can argue that any repairs deprived the insurer of an opportunity to fully investigate the cause of the loss.
These arguments by the insurer do not always succeed, however, they will take time away from the general goal of getting the claim paid and will cause headaches that may have been avoided. Having to overcome a prejudice argument can be difficult, and the consequences of not proving this argument in Florida may unnecessarily void coverage.