Leaking fluid from corpse pits condo owner against insurance provider
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Brett Clarkson
April 30, 2014
Woman unable to convince State Farm, courts that policy covered damage from dead body
A state appeal court ruled that State Farm didn't have to be there for Judy Rodrigo after her neighbor died and leaked bodily fluids into her condo.
The Jupiter woman's fight with the insurer began in October 2007, when her neighbor died and the corpse went undiscovered.
"The insured's next-door neighbor died, and time passed before the body was discovered," Judge Melanie G. May wrote in the decision, released Wednesday.
The initial case stemmed from an unsuccessful attempt by Rodrigo to characterize the decomposition of the body as an "explosion." This was because the policy only covered damage to personal property in the event of a so-called "named peril," explosions being one of those perils.
State Farm had at first offered Rodrigo a payment, but denied liability for damage to Rodrigo's personal property. Rodrigo refused the settlement, records show.
According to court filings, Rodrigo felt State Farm had failed to "promptly pay for the full amount" she felt she was owed for the repair of the unit and her personal property as well as living expenses — she said she couldn't stay in her condo because of the damage — to which she felt entitled.
On Wednesday, the state's Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled that the company was justified in how it responded to Rodrigo's effort, which judges called "novel."
A complaint filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court from Rodrigo's 2008 civil lawsuit against State Farm says "another unit owner's body exploded thereby causing blood and bodily fluids to go into the adjoining condominium and the unit owned by Judy Rodrigo."
State Farm disagreed that a decomposing body constituted an explosion.
Rodrigo sent invoices and lists of the damage to State Farm, and they sent out a claims adjuster who signed an appraisal award, the decision explained.
Rodrigo also got an affidavit from a doctor who said the "internal contents" of the "woman's body explosively expanded and leaked."
A county court judge decided in State Farm's favor, ruling that the decomposing body was not an insurable explosion.
The case went to the appeal court. In the decision, May noted that even though the policy did not define the term explosion, past court decisions in Florida dictate that plain language rules when dealing with insurance contracts.
"Rather than stretching common sense, the trial court correctly gave the term 'explosion' its 'plain and unambiguous meaning as understood by the man on the street,'" May wrote. "The plain meaning of the term 'explosion' does not include a decomposing body's cells explosively expanding, causing leakage of bodily fluids."
The decision also stated that Rodrigo failed to file a sworn proof of loss, as required by the policy, within 60 days.
The amount of the initial payment offer wasn't specified in Wednesday's decision. In a complaint filed with State Farm, Rodrigo said she wanted the appraisal invalidated and a neutral party to do a second appraisal. She also alleged that State Farm "breached its contract by failing to pay the amount necessary" to fix the damage and recoup her personal property.
Despite Rodrigo's efforts, the appeal court sided with State Farm, but not before noting the unusual nature of the case.
"In short, although novel in her attempt to do so, the insured could not establish that the decomposing body was tantamount to an explosion," May wrote in the decision.