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Appeals Court Sides With Insurer In Hurricane Claim

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - In a dispute stemming from Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, a South Florida appeals court has rejected condominium owners' arguments that they sustained tornado damage --- not hurricane damage.

Condominiums owned by Richard and Roberta Moody and Robert Denney sustained heavy damage and were uninhabitable after the storm. State Farm Florida Insurance Co. paid full coverage amounts for property damage and paid additional living expenses.

But the condo owners filed lawsuits related to part of the hurricane coverage that placed a limit on payments for additional living expenses. They contended that the amount of additional living expenses should be determined under general policy provisions that did not include the hurricane limit.

They alleged that the losses were caused by a tornado or microburst instead of a hurricane, with the Moodys requesting $11,245 in additional living expenses and Denney seeking $10,059, according to the ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal.

The condo owners won in circuit court, and a judgment was later entered for attorneys' fees of $755,465.

State Farm argued the damage was caused by a storm system that had been declared a hurricane and, as a result, the limit on additional living expenses should apply.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court agreed.

"Here, the National Hurricane Center named the storm system 'Hurricane Jeanne' and issued the policy-required hurricane warnings and watches,'' said the ruling, written by Judge Melanie May and joined by judges Robert Gross and Burton Conner. "On September 26 (2004), Hurricane Jeanne passed over the insureds' condominiums and the storm system caused their condominiums to become uninhabitable. Therefore, the hurricane coverage endorsement (part of the policies) unambiguously applied."

The appeals court sent the case back for a judgment in favor of State Farm and said the judgment for attorneys' fees should also be reversed.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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