For a person injured in an accident, the road to legal recovery often involves battling an insurance company. In Maddox v. Florida Farm Bureau General, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals considered a common issue in insurance related cases: how to interpret a policy’s “single occurrence” provision.
Maddox and her son were injured in a dog bite attack at her boyfriend’s home where Maddox and her two kids were living. Maddox’s boyfriend owned two dogs at the time, Sugar and Dixie. On the day in question, Maddox said she was dressing one son when she heard the other scream. Rushing to the spare bedroom, she found Dixie biting her son’s face. She attempted to get Dixie to break her grip and was also bitten in the process.
Florida Farm Bureau General, the boyfriend’s home insurer, paid $100,000 to Maddox for her child’s injury under the insured’s personal liability coverage. Maddox filed a complaint against her boyfriend for her individual injuries. FFBG later filed a separate complaint asking a trial court for a declaratory judgment, ruling that the company was not liable for any damages from the biting incident under the home insurance policy.
The company said the biting incident fell under a “same occurrence” provision stating that all injuries and property damage stemming from “one accident or from continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions” are considered as happening in the same occurrence. The provision further limited the payout per occurrence at $100,000. Because FFBG had already paid this amount for Maddox’s son’s injury, the company argued that it was not liable for any additional payments.
A trial court granted the company’s motion for summary judgment, finding that Maddox and her son’s injuries were subject to the one occurrence limit in the boyfriend’s insurance policy. The Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal, however. The appeals court ruled that the biting incidents should have been considered as two separate occurrences under the policy.
“In the absence of explicit policy language to the contrary, the Florida Supreme Court has adopted the ’cause theory,’ which looks to the cause of a party’s injuries for determining the number of ‘occurrences’ under an insurance policy,” the court explained, citing the state high court’s 2003 decision in Koikos v. Travelers Insurance. In Koikos, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that an intruder’s firing of two rounds from a firearm during an invasion were separate incidents under the relevant insurance policy.
Similarly, the court here found that the two injuries at issue had two separate causes, given that they resulted from two separate bites. As a result, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite, the South Florida dog bite lawyers at Anidjar & Levine can help. Our firm has successfully represented numerous victims of dog bites and animal attacks throughout the region, helping them obtain compensation for their injuries. Call the firm’s Ft. Lauderdale offices at 800-747-3733 or fill out an on-line Contact Us form.
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