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Court Revives Hurricane Wilma Damage Claim

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - An appeals court has ordered a new trial in a dispute about Citizens Property Insurance Corp.'s decision to deny a water-damage claim filed more than three years after Hurricane Wilma hammered South Florida in October 2005.

Condominium-unit owner Edie Laquer filed the claim in 2009 after mold and other water damage was discovered in a wall. The unit, which had been rented to a tenant, was not directly damaged by Hurricane Wilma, but a neighbor's unit had been flooded, according to Wednesday's ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

The state-backed Citizens denied the claim, pointing to a policy requirement to provide "prompt" notice of claims and the more than three years that had elapsed after the hurricane.

Laquer contended she had no way of knowing about the damage until 2009.

A Miami-Dade County circuit judge sided with Citizens in finding that Laquer failed to provide prompt notice, and a jury also ruled for the insurer on the related issue of whether Citizens had been prejudiced by the late notice.

But a three-judge panel of the appeals court ordered a new trial, finding that "issues of fact exist concerning when a reasonable and prudent person would believe that a potential claim for damages" might occur.

"Contrary to Citizens' contention, the hurricane itself was not necessarily the event that would trigger the notice requirement, given the absence of apparent damage to any of Laquer's property following the storm,'' said the 11-page ruling, written by Judge Thomas Logue and joined by judges Vance Salter and Ivan Fernandez. "Contrary to Laquer's suggestion, her duty to provide notice under the policy was not necessarily triggered when she became aware of the full extent of the damage or when she determined that Hurricane Wilma was the cause of the damage."

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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