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Lawrence v. ACE American Insurance Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

November 13, 2019

WILLIAM LAWRENCE, Plaintiff,
v.
ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant. USAA CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, individually and as equitable and contractual subrogee of Benjamin Wintersteen, Intervenor,
v.
ACE AMERICAN INSURANCE COMPANY, Intervenor-Defendant.

          ORDER

          SUSAN C. BUCKLEW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court on Lawrence's Motion for Entitlement to and Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs. (Doc. No. 180). ACE opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 185). As explained below, the motion is granted in part.

         I. Background

         This consolidated action is an insurance coverage dispute. In August of 2014, Benjamin Wintersteen was employed by Jacobs Technology (“Jacobs”) when he was involved in a car accident with William Lawrence. Wintersteen was driving a rental car at the time of the accident, and Jacobs had helped Wintersteen obtain the rental car while he was on a temporary work assignment in Tampa.

         As a result of the car accident, Lawrence sued Wintersteen in state court. Wintersteen made a claim for coverage under ACE American Insurance Company's (“ACE”) commercial automobile insurance policy issued to Jacobs. ACE denied Wintersteen a defense and coverage under the policy.

         Wintersteen had personal automobile insurance through USAA Casualty Insurance Company (“USAA”). There was also insurance coverage for the rental car through Hertz.

         In May of 2017, Lawrence, Wintersteen, Hertz, and USAA (collectively referred to as “the Settling Parties”) stipulated to an entry of a consent judgment to resolve Lawrence's claims from the car accident and to provide a means to collect part of the consent judgment from ACE. Specifically, the Settling Parties stated in their Settlement Agreement that they intended that ACE would be required to pay the amount of the consent judgment that it was legally required to pay had it honored its coverage obligations under the insurance policy.

         The Settling Parties stipulated that Lawrence's damages from the car accident were $750, 000, and they agreed to the entry of a $750, 000 consent judgment in favor of Lawrence and against Wintersteen. In partial satisfaction of the consent judgment, Hertz paid Lawrence $100, 000 and USAA paid Lawrence $250, 000. Thus, $350, 000 was paid by Hertz and USAA on Wintersteen's behalf. In exchange for the $350, 000 and an agreement not to execute against Wintersteen on the unpaid $400, 000 remaining, Wintersteen assigned to Lawrence all of his claims against ACE.

         Thereafter, Lawrence filed this lawsuit against ACE seeking a declaratory judgment of coverage and damages, as well as asserting a claim for coverage based on promissory estoppel.[1] In May of 2018, this Court granted USAA's motion to intervene to pursue its related claims against ACE for equitable contribution and a declaratory judgment of coverage and damages.

         A trial was held in this case to determine whether Jacobs co-rented the car that was involved in the accident. If Jacobs co-rented the car, there would be insurance coverage for the accident under ACE's insurance policy. After the jury returned its verdict, this Court found that Jacobs co-rented the car involved in the accident and that ACE's insurance policy provided coverage for the accident under the Hired Autos provision of the policy. (Doc. No. 165).

         On October 9, 2019, judgment was entered in favor of Lawrence and against ACE on the declaratory judgment and damages claim. (Doc. No. 173). The Court awarded Lawrence $400, 000 in damages on that claim. (Doc. No. 173). The Court entered judgment in favor of ACE on Lawrence's promissory estoppel claim. (Doc. No. 174).

         II. Attorneys' Fees

         Lawrence seeks a ruling from this Court that he is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to Florida's Offer of Judgment rule, Florida Statute §768.79. That rule provides the following:

In any civil action for damages[, ] . . . [i]f a plaintiff files a demand for judgment which is not accepted by the defendant within 30 days and the plaintiff recovers a judgment in an amount at least 25 percent greater than the offer, she or he shall be entitled to recover reasonable costs ...

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