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Court Discusses Timely Removal of a Florida UIM Case to Federal Court

October 15, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

One of the essential elements of any South Florida lawsuit seeking uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits is damages. If the damages exceed $75,000, the injured party may file the lawsuit in federal court. Even if the plaintiff files an action in state court, the defendant may remove the case to federal court if the damages alleged meet the threshold amount, but the defendant must remove the case within a strict timeframe. In some cases, however, the exact amount of damages incurred may not be clear at the onset of a lawsuit, and a removal may be appropriate at a later date. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida recently analyzed what constitutes a timely removal in a case in which the plaintiff did not allege a specific amount of damages in the initial pleading. If you were involved in a South Florida car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, it is essential to retain a skilled South Florida personal injury attorney to assist you in pursuing benefits from your insurer.

The Plaintiff’s Pleadings

Allegedly, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant insurer in February 2018, alleging she suffered personal injuries in a car accident with an underinsured third party, and suffered permanent and continuing losses. She did not quantify the dollar amount of her damages. In June 2018, the plaintiff produced medical bills in excess of $150,000.00. Then, in August 2018, the defendant offered to settle the claim for $100,000.00, which was the UIM policy limit.

It is reported that the plaintiff rejected the offer and in September 2018, filed a motion for leave to amend her complaint, seeking to add a bad faith claim. In doing so, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant originally denied her claim and then admitted that her damages met or exceeded the policy limits by making the settlement offer. In October 2018, the defendant moved the case to federal court. The plaintiff objected, arguing the removal was untimely.

Procedural Rules Regarding Removal to Federal Court

Under federal rules of civil procedure 1446, a defendant has 30 days to remove a case to federal court following one of two triggering events. The first triggering event is the receipt of the complaint. If the complaint does not set forth a specific amount in controversy, however, the second triggering event is the receipt of a pleading that alerts the defendant that the case is removable. In reviewing whether a case was properly removed the court employs a bright-line rule. To determine whether the initial pleading triggered a removal the court looks only at the initial pleading.

In the subject case, the court found that the first complaint did not trigger a removal, as it did not contain an amount in controversy. Instead, the court found that the second triggering event analysis applied in this case. Specifically, in the amended complaint the plaintiff referred to the defendant’s offer of the full policy limits, which provided the first valuation of her claim, and was a second triggering event. Thus, the court found that the defendant’s removal was timely.

Speak with a Trusted South Florida Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Accident Attorney

If you were injured in a South Florida car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist and your automobile insurance provider refuses to pay you benefits under your policy you should speak with a trusted South Florida uninsured/underinsured motorist attorney about your case and your options for pursuing the full amount of benefits you may be owed. The South Florida personal injury attorneys of Donaldson & Weston will vigorously pursue any benefits you may be owed from your insurer. We can be reached at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to schedule a confidential and free meeting about your case.