INSURANCE: HOMEOWNERS’ INSURANCE: PREMIUMS: LOSS MITIGATION CREDITS: CLASS ACTIONS: CLASS ACTION FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF BASED UPON INSURER’S FAILURE TO HONOR FOR FIVE YEARS UNIFORM MITIGATION VERIFICATION INSPECTION FORMS: APPELLATE COURT AFFIRMS DISMISSAL BASED UPON FAILURE TO EXHAUST ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES; APPEALS: STANDARD OF REVIEW: ABUSE OF DISCRETION, RATHER THAN DE NOVO, STANDARD OF REVIEW APPLIES TO ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY RELIEF

Asseff v. Citizens Property Insurance, ___ So. 3d ___, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D610 (Fla. 1st DCA March 10, 2015)

Although Uniform Mitigation Verification Inspection Forms provide that they are valid for a period of five years unless material changes have been made to the structure, the plaintiffs’ insurer conducted its own inspections of their homes before five years elapsed, resulting in the loss or reduction of premium credits. As a result, the plaintiffs filed a class action for declaratory relief challenging the insurer’s failure to honor their verification forms for a full five years. The trial court dismissed the action based upon the plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies under Section 627.371, Florida Statutes, and the appellate court affirmed. The statute authorizes insureds to challenge rates charged, rating plans, rating systems, or underwriting rules followed or adopted by insurers, and “a premium discount is ‘inextricably linked to the rate charged.’”

In general, a de novo standard of review applies to orders dismissing a complaint, but an abuse of discretion standard of review applies to orders dismissing a complaint for declaratory relief because of the “considerable deference” extended to trial judges in such matters.

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