One way insurance companies have attempted to avoid liability in class-action cases is by forcing a non-judicial procedure called appraisal.
Most, if not all, automobile insurance policies include an appraisal provision, which allows either the insurance company or the insured to seek an appraisal in the event there is a dispute over the amount of “loss.”
Insurance companies have repeatedly attempted to have class-action cases against them dismissed by arguing that the appraisal provision in the policy requires the dispute to be sent to an appraiser rather than a court of law. However, an appraiser is not authorized to determine legal issues of coverage and can only offer opinions on the value of a piece of property.
By carefully framing class-action cases so that they allege issues of law, rather than issues of fact, Normand PLLC has successfully defended against this litigation strategy in class-action cases against many car insurance companies throughout the United States. In the few cases where appraisal was ordered, Normand PLLC has succeeded in getting those cases reversed on appeal.
For example, in Gravitystorm v. Old Dominion Insurance Company, a Florida trial court compelled appraisal and dismissed a class action alleging breach of contract for failing to pay required fees after insureds experienced total losses. Normand PLLC appealed that decision to the Florida 4th DCA, where the appellate court reversed the order compelling appraisal, explaining that the question of whether fees or taxes are owed under an insurance policy is a legal issue that cannot be resolved through appraisal.
Normand PLLC has also successfully appealed a similar issue to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. Citing to the appellate decision in Gravitystorm, the Eleventh Circuit in McGowan v. First Acceptance Insurance Co., agreed that appraisers cannot resolve disputes related to insurance coverage. These cases are now governing law in state and federal courts in Florida on whether an appraiser can determine whether taxes and fees are owed under an insurance policy, making access to a judicial determination more obtainable for future class-action plaintiffs.