U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Clarifies Retroactive Renewal of Flood Insurance

Those living in low-lying areas and near rivers often seek, and often obtain, flood insurance. Many of the policies granted come from insurance providers that have opted into the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under this program, property owners are issued flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The federal government, in an effort to expand the NFIP, created the Write Your Own program. These policies provide identical coverage as regular NFIP insurance, except they are administered through local insurance companies. These insurance companies increase community awareness of the NFIP in return for expenses related to claims written and processed. FEMA retains all responsibility for claim losses.

These policies, like any other insurance policy, are only active for the policy period. However, once the policy period has expired, FEMA and Write Your Own insurers typically extend a grace period of thirty days. This means that if the policy holder pays a renewal premium within thirty days of the policy’s expiration, the renewal will be retroactive, essentially covering the gap between the policy expiration and the payment of the premium. If the policy holder fails to pay the renewal premium before the grace period ends, then the policy terminates at its original expiration date and no grace period claims can be processed under it.

This retroactive policy renewal was the issue in Campo v. Allstate Insurance Company. Here, Campo’s flood insurance expired and Allstate sent him notice of the expiration along with the option of retroactive renewal. During this grace period Campo’s property was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Due to the excessive number of claims arising from Katrina, FEMA increased NFIP grace periods from thirty days to ninety. Campo contacted Allstate and procured an insurance check to cover his living expenses. No further discussion of policy renewal took place. Campo’s ninety day grace period expired without any renewal premium payment. Therefore, when Campo filed his insurance claim it was denied as the policy was not retroactively renewed to cover the damage caused during the grace period. Campo sued Allstate claiming that Allstate had negligently misrepresented the status of his policy.

The only way to succeed on a claim of negligent misrepresentation by an insurance company is to show that the insurance company had a legal duty to supply correct information, that that duty was breached, and that damages resulted from justifiable reliance on that misrepresentation. In most cases, as in Campo’s, the third prong of this test is the most difficult to satisfy. The reasoning behind this is simple: policy holders have access to correct information through the policy contract that they possess. Thus, courts may find damages flowed from an unjustified reliance on the misstatement because the policy itself is clear.

Yet, under this test, Campo succeeded on his damages claim in district court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, on the other hand, reversed in favor of Allstate. The reasoning behind this decision is that Campo was fully aware that he was required to pay a premium in order to obtain the retroactive renewal of his policy. In conversations with Allstate, Campo failed to discuss the renewal, and, in addition, the check provided by Allstate during the grace period was not a promise that it would pay Campo’s claim. In short, the court viewed Campo as being responsible for knowing the terms of the insurance policy he held. Insurance policy holders have access to the terms of their policy and are therefore in a position to familiarize themselves with relevant provisions.

Since much of Louisiana is prone to flooding, it is important to protect yourself by obtaining flood insurance. However, once a policy is issued, be sure to read through the terms and know the conditions of renewal. When a policy expires, it is the policy holder’s responsibility to take action for renewal.

Insurance disputes such as these are complex and best left to an experienced practicing attorney.

If you or your company have fallen into a contested policy claim, please contact the Berniard Law Firm.

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