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Out of State Insurance Company not Subject to Personal Jurisdiction in Florida Without First Establishing “Minimum Contacts” with the State

Nov 15, 2016 in Case Law Updates by

In Erie Insurance Exchange v. Larose, 41 Fla. L. Weekly D2372, Case No. 2D15-5750 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016), the Second District Court of Appeal concluded that Florida courts did not have jurisdiction over an out-of-state insurance company when the policy was issued in a different state to an out- of- state company. The insurance company was not licensed in Florida, did not engage in business in Florida, and did not have an office in Florida.

The policy in question in this case was issued by Erie Insurance Exchange, a Pennsylvania Insurance Company, in Wisconsin, to a Wisconsin company. The policy provided that the insured vehicles would be principally garaged in Wisconsin but also provided coverage for automobile accidents occurring anywhere in the United States and Canada. The accident that gave rise to this lawsuit occurred when an employee of the insured company drove to Florida and gave permission to Larose, a Florida resident, to drive the insured vehicle. After allegedly suffering injuries in the accident, Larose filed a suit to recover from the policy’s Underinsured Motorist benefits.

Florida courts require the fulfillment of two criteria before exercising personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant; the defendant’s conduct must fall within one of the provisions of Florida’s long-arm statute, and the defendant must have sufficient contacts with Florida to satisfy constitutional due process.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court’s finding that there was long-arm jurisdiction under 48.193(1)(a)(7), which provides that a defendant submits itself to jurisdiction in Florida by “breaching a contract in this state by failing to perform acts required by the contract to be performed in the state.” In Erie, the alleged “breach of contract” was the insurer’s refusal to pay UIM benefits to Larose; thus the pertinent question was whether Erie’s denial of payment was a breach of a contract required to be performed in the state. In Florida, when the insurance policy does not specify a “place of performance,” the insurer must make payment in the place where the insured resides. Thus, in Erie, Larose’s residence established long-arm jurisdiction over the insurer.

The Second District agreed with the trial court’s finding of long-arm jurisdiction but found that Erie did not have sufficient minimum contacts with Florida to establish constitutional due process. The sufficient minimum contacts must be such that a defendant engages in act to “purposefully avail itself of the privilege of conducting activities within the forum State.” In Erie, the insurer was not licensed in Florida, did not engage or ever seek to engage in business in Florida, and did not have an office in Florida. Instead, the unilateral acts by the insured gave rise to the litigation in Florida. The Second District also emphasized that the foreseeability that the insured would travel to Florida and get in an accident is not sufficient for constitutional due process. Furthermore, the policy’s provision providing coverage for accidents occurring anywhere in the country was also insufficient.   Thus, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s finding of personal jurisdiction over the insurance company, and remanded the case for dismissal.

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