I signed an insurance agreement in another state, but brought an action in Florida. Which state’s law will the court apply?
There are so many reasons why someone would want to move to the sunshine state. There’s the weather, water – what other reason do you need? Although, if you moved from another state, where you had previously signed an insurance agreement, and you bring an action in Florida – which state law would govern?
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Let’s first discuss why this information is important to you. Statute of limitations. You’ve heard the term before because it’s an important one; and one that will be hammered into any first year law student’s head. The statute of limitations specifies the amount of time you have to bring your cause of action, or forever be barred from pursuing the claim. This is relevant to our topic because the statute of limitations will depend on the governing law.
For example, to bring a breach of contract claim in the state of Michigan, the plaintiff has four or six years (depending on other factors) from the breach to bring suit, but, in the state of Florida, the plaintiff has five years to bring a cause of action based on a written contract.
HERE’S THE LAW
The rule [lex loci contractus] provides that “the law of the jurisdiction where the contract was executed governs the rights and liabilities of the parties in determining an issue of insurance coverage.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Roach, 945 So. 2d 1160, 1163 (Fla. 2006) citing Sturiano v. Brooks, 523 So.2d 1126, 1129 (Fla.1988). The Florida Supreme Court held that lex loci contractus was an “inflexible rule,” but that it was necessary to best ensure stability in contractual agreements.
In short, the law of the state where you entered into the agreement will govern. Although, there is one exception to this strict rule.
The Florida Supreme Court has stated that lex loci contractus is an inflexible rule; however, the court has carved out one exception. “Florida courts have departed from the lex loci contractus rule only in limited instances ‘for the purpose of necessary protection of [Florida's] own citizens, or of enforcing some paramount rule of public policy.’” Nova Cas. Co. v. Onebeacon Am. Ins. Co., No. 12-CV-60824, 2013 WL 11322105, at *3 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 7, 2013) citing Roach, 945 So.2d at 1164.
The public policy exception is narrow and limited in use. The Florida Supreme Court will only apply the exception in situations that involve both a full-time Florida citizen and a paramount Florida public policy: “[A] court may not depart from the rules of comity, except in certain cases, for the purpose of protection of Florida citizens or for the purpose of enforcing some paramount rule of public policy.” Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Enright, 258 So. 2d 472, 475 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1972). “This has become known as the public policy exception. It requires both a Florida citizen in need of protection and a paramount Florida public policy.” Roach at 1165.
For the narrow public policy exception to apply in insurance contracts, Florida courts have required three elements: (1) where it is necessary to protect a Florida citizen; (2) to enforce a paramount rule of public policy; and (3) the insurer must be on reasonable notice that the insured is a Florida citizen. See Nova Cas. Co. at 4.
In Roach, the Plaintiff tried to assert that the public policy exception applied in their case and that Florida law should govern the contract executed in Indiana. Plaintiff was a “snowbird” and only resided in Florida for five-and-a-half-months out of the year. The court held that since Plaintiff spent substantially less time in the state of Florida, compared to a full time resident, they could not satisfy the Florida resident requirement to be able to invoke the public policy exception. Roach at 1168. The court reasoned that, though Florida welcomes both short-term and long-term visitors, the courts cannot rewrite their out-of-state contracts. Roach at 1169.
In summary, in contract disputes, the bright line rule states that Florida will adopt the law of the state where the agreement was entered into; however, there is one limited, narrow exception. The public policy exception requires (1) permanent Florida residency; (2) applied to enforce a paramount public policy; (3) and that the insurer must be on reasonable notice that the insured is a Florida citizen.