Handyman or agent?
A pipe leak caused water damage to a house owned by Cecilia Castillo and Jorge Guillen. They hired a handyman to repair the pipe and a water restoration company to dry out their house. They submitted a sworn proof of loss with the repair invoices to their insurer, Avatar Property and Casualty Insurance Company, and requested coverage for the claim.
The insurer requested the insureds to produce themselves, the handyman, and the water restoration company’s employees for examinations under oath (EUOs) pursuant to the policy, which provided, in pertinent part:
2. Your Duties After Loss. In case of a loss to covered property, you must see that all of the following are done:
i. In the County where the “residence premises” is located you, your agents, your representatives, including any public adjuster engaged on your behalf, and any and all “insureds” must submit to [EUOs] and sign same when requested by us.
The insureds filed a petition for declaratory relief. The insureds argued that the policy did not require them to produce the handyman or the water restoration employees for EUOs because those persons were not their “agents” or “representatives” as those terms were used in the policy. The insureds later filed a motion for final declaratory judgment to that effect.
The insurer then filed its own motion for final declaratory judgment. The insurer argued that the policy required the insureds to produce their “agents” and “representatives,” which included the handyman and the water restoration employees.
The court issued a final judgment concluding:
6. The [insurance] policy only requires the [insureds] and their “agents and representatives or public adjuster” to submit to [EUOs]. The policy does not define the terms “agent” or “representative.” Nevertheless, just because a policy does not define a term does not make the policy ambiguous.
According to Black’s Law Dictionary, the terms “agent” and “representative” have the same meaning.
8. Individuals retained by the [homeowner] to furnish estimates of the damage (such as a general contractor or handyman), or a company retained by the policyholder to mitigate damages (such as a water mitigation company), do not fit within the definition of [the insureds’] agent, representative, or public adjuster. If the [insurer] wanted to require the [insureds] to produce such individuals or “all other [persons whom the insureds] would rely upon to support their claim,” it would have been “a simple matter” to include such a requirement in the policy. Avatar appealed.
On appeal, the court observed that the policy did not define “agents” or “representatives.”
Black’s Law Dictionary defines “agent” as “someone who is authorized to act for or in place of another; a representative.” The same dictionary defines “representative” as “someone who stands for or acts on behalf of another.”
Applying those definitions to the undisputed facts, the insureds’ handyman and the water restoration employees were not their “agents” or “representatives” under the policy. Nothing in the record indicated that the handyman or the water restoration employees were “authorized to act for or in place of” the insureds, or “[stood] for or act[ed] on behalf of” the insureds. Instead, the record indicated that the handyman and the water restoration employees simply performed repairs to the insureds’ home. Thus the policy did not require the insureds to produce the handyman or the water restoration employees for examinations under oath.
The appellate court concluded that the circuit court correctly held that the policy did not require the insureds to produce the handyman and the water restoration employees for EUOs. Thus the court affirmed on that issue. On the other issues raised in the appeal and cross-appeal, the court affirmed without further discussion.
Avatar Property and Casualty Insurance Company v. Castillo—District Court of Appeals of Florida, Fourth District—April 22, 2020—No. 4D18-3154.