Florida Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case Enforcing Anti-Concurrent Causation Language in Homeowner’s Policy  

Nov 16, 2020

Florida Insurance Defense Lawyer

Colodny Fass Shareholder Amy Koltnow obtained a significant victory for insurers in Security First Insurance Company v. John Czelusniak, wherein the Third District Court of Appeal upheld the validity of anti-concurrent causation language in the policy. The case concerns water that entered the insured’s home through the walls, windows, and doors, resulting in interior damage. The policy expressly excluded water entering through walls and windows but did not explicitly exclude water entering in through the door. 

The trial judge entered a directed verdict in favor of the homeowners finding as a matter of law that since there was more than one cause of the water damage, the “concurrent-cause doctrine” set forth in Sebo v. American Home Assurance Co., Inc., 208 So. 3d 694 (Fla. 2016) applied, rendering all water damages covered under the policy. 

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court held in Sebo that where two or more perils combine to cause a loss, the “concurrent cause doctrine” applied and the entire loss would be covered by an all-risk policy even if one of the causes is excluded from coverage. Sebo was hailed as a victory for Florida homeowners and served to broaden coverage for all property damage caused by multiple perils even when one or more perils were expressly excluded under the policy.  The policy in Sebo, however, did not contain an anti-concurrent cause provision. 

Security First had anti-concurrent cause language in its policy that expressly excluded water damage to the residence, regardless of any other cause or event contributing concurrently or in any sequence to the loss. 

The Third District Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and issued a mandate requiring the trial judge enter judgment in Security First’s favor.  The appellate court held the trial judge’s ruling was directly contrary to the policy’s anti-concurrent cause provision.

The insured sought a rehearing in the appellate court, which was denied, and then sought to have the Florida Supreme Court review the appellate court’s reversal. The insured argued the appellate court’s decision was inconsistent with the Sebo precedent and erroneously “shifted” the burden of proving a policy exclusion away from the insurer. 

The Florida Supreme Court, however, declined to accept jurisdiction of the case, and declined to allow any rehearing of the issue, sending a clear message that anti-concurrent causation provisions in homeowner insurance policies will be enforced as written. 

Anti-concurrent causation language may well provide relief for Florida insurers facing “combined peril” claims. However, not every exclusion can be accompanied by an anti-concurrent causation clause. The anti-concurrent causation clause is typically included as part of only a small number of exclusions. 

Insurers should review their policies carefully to ensure they have a properly drafted anti-concurrent cause language to better manage the risk of loss.

Read the appellate court’s opinion here (3d DCA Opinion – May 13, 2020) and the Florida Supreme Court’s order declining jurisdiction here (Supreme Court Order – Jurisdiction Declined $2,500 Attorneys Fees Awarded)