Adam P. Handfinger, co-managing partner of the firm’s Miami office, argued last Thursday before the Florida Supreme Court representing Altman Contractors Inc., in the dispute over whether an insurer is obliged to cover costs incurred by a contractor in a pre-suit process under Florida state law.
In a story entitled “Question of Insurer’s Duty Hinges on Dictionary Definition” that published April 10, 2017 in the Daily Business Review, the heart of the case is a question on whether insurers have a duty to intervene on a client’s behalf during pre-litigation efforts involving construction defect claims.
But it was the dictionary—and its definition of a legal “proceeding”—that took center stage during oral arguments Thursday, as one side sought to persuade the high court these pre-suit claims constituted judicial actions, and the other insisted they didn’t.
The court peppered appellant attorney Adam Handfinger with questions aimed at deciphering whether the claims met the dictionary’s parameters of “any procedural means for seeking redress from a tribunal or agency. “If (you) go by that, then this is not a civil proceeding,” Justice C. Alan Lawson said.
Justice Barbara J. Pariente seemed inclined to agree, noting the construction pre-suit process lacked an adjudicator—a key component under the dictionary’s definition.
The case pits Altman Contractors Inc. against general commercial liability insurer, Crum & Forster Specialty Insurance Co., which refused to step into a construction defect spat with a condo association. It stems from Altman’s role as general contractor for the luxury high-rise Sapphire condominiums in Fort Lauderdale.