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Arbitration and Appraisal Distinguished by Miami Appellate Court

apraisal award.jpgFlorida’s Third District Court of Appeal recently heard an appeal from an Amended Final Judgment after appraisal. The case on appeal was reversed and remanded for further proceedings after the appellate court concluded that the trial court should not have used Florida’s arbitration code to confirm a million dollar insurance claim when there were still unresolved coverage issues. The court determined that the Florida Arbitration Code is not applicable to insurance appraisal rewards when such coverage issues remain unresolved. In Citizens v. Mango Hill, the Third District Court of Appeal explained that there are well defined differences between arbitration and appraisal in the state of Florida. An agreement for appraisal is for the resolution of the specific issues of actual cash value and amount of loss. Typically, appraisal exists for a limited purpose – for instance, the determination of the “amount of the loss.” As such, there are no requirements that appraisers be sworn, as the appraisal process is very informal given that they are often narrow in scope and purpose. Appraisers are generally expected to act on their own skill and knowledge relating to the matters. They are not required to give formal notice of their activities to the parties or counsel, or to hear evidence. And often times, there are specific appraisal agreements covering the scope of the appraisal. On the other hand, an agreement to arbitrate usually involves the disposition of an entire controversy between parties. The Florida Arbitration Code, entitles each party to a full hearing in the presence of the opposing party, unless this right is waived by conduct or an agreement. Arbitrators can not conduct an independent investigation of the issue. In the instant case, Citizens asserts that Mango Hill failed to adhere to the post-loss obligations under the insurance policy thereby negating coverage. Specifically, Mango Hill allegedly failed to allow Citizens’ appraiser to complete a full inspection of the loss claimed, and they also supposedly refused to tender an amended sworn proof of loss or appear for an examination under oath after nearly doubling the claim amount during the appraisal process. Citizens’ asserts that the trial court failed to consider its coverage defenses regarding payment of the award in light of those coverage defenses. The Third District Court of Appeal concluded that the proper procedure requires that Citizens’ coverage defenses be addressed by motion for summary judgment or trial as opposed to an appraisal award confirmation under the Florida Arbitration Code. Here the Court rules that the Florida Arbitration Code will not apply to appraisal awards. For these reasons the appellate court reversed and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to comply with the court’s opinion. In the end, this case stands for the general proposition that appraisal is not the appropriate means to resolve and handle coverage disputes. In other words, if there are applicable coverage defenses that have not been disposed of, then the appraisal award cannot be confirmed, and enforced, in the same manner as an arbitration award. On the other hand, it is also clear that if no coverage defenses were asserted, or if the coverage defenses have already been resolved, then the trial court would be free to confirm, and enforce, an appraisal award.

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