As the Florida Legislature and Florida courts continue to grapple with the issue of assignments of benefits in property claims, the Fourth District Court of Appeal recently weighed in on a matter involving the validity of a purported assignment in QBE Specialty Insurance Co. v. United Reconstruction Group Inc.
The case involved a water damage claim at a home insured by QBE Specialty Insurance Co. United Reconstruction Group was hired to perform emergency water mitigation services. United claimed that the homeowner executed a contract that included an assignment of benefits of the homeowner’s insurance policy to United. While the contract did have a signature on it, the block for “customer print name” was left blank.
United submitted an invoice for $10,897.91 to QBE, along with a copy of the signed contract/assignment. A claims adjuster for QBE contacted United to negotiate the amount. Eventually, United agreed to $8,603.20. QBE issued the agreed payment to the insured and not United. Apparently, the insured cashed the check and did not remit the proceeds to United.
United, under the purported assignment from the insured, filed a breach of contract action against QBE. United alleged that QBE breached its “loss payment” provision of its insurance policy by not sending payment to United, which claimed it had a valid assignment, pursuant to the executed assignment. United alleged, alternatively, that it had an equitable assignment from the insured based on the services it performed on the insured’s property. In its response to the complaint, QBE raised an affirmative defense that the assignment was invalid as it was not signed by the insured.
United moved for summary judgment. In support of its motion, United provided an affidavit from one of its owners stating that United performed the services for the insured and that the insured executed, or caused to be executed, an assignment of benefits under the policy to United. United also filed a deposition transcript of QBE’s corporate representative in which the representative testified that QBE received the assignment before issuing payment to the insured, as well as the fact that a QBE claims adjuster had contacted United directly to negotiate the amount.
QBE filed a response in opposition to the summary judgment motion, arguing that the assignment was not signed by the insured. In support of its position, QBE submitted an affidavit of a forensic writing expert. The expert’s affidavit provided several findings that supported QBE’s position that the signature on the assignment was not the insured’s signature.
Although the trial court agreed that the forensic writing expert’s affidavit created an issue of fact, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of United. The trial court held that “a valid assignment between the insured and [United] existed.” Notably, the trial court did not address what type of assignment (legal or equitable) United had obtained from the insured. QBE subsequently appealed.
The District Court of Appeal agreed with QBE that summary judgment was improper. The court noted that QBE properly raised the affirmative defense related to the lack of a valid assignment and that United did not provide any response to the forensic writing expert’s affidavit. Because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the insured signed the assignment, it was an error for the trial court to grant summary judgment.
In addition, the court held that the mere fact that United performed the work on the home did not give rise to an equitable assignment, absent any evidence that the insured intended to assign his rights under the policy to United. Since there existed questions of fact as to whether the insured executed the assignment (i.e., intended to assign his rights under the policy to United), summary judgment in favor of United would have been improper as to any determination by the trial court that United had obtained an equitable assignment from the insured. The case was subsequently remanded to the trial court.