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United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
May 4, 1998, Decided
[*917] FAY, Senior Circuit Judge:
This suit concerns the liability of Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Corporation ("Millers") to its insured, Florida resident Janelle Benfield, for property loss due to fire. Millers appeals as error the district court's striking of the testimony of Millers' fire causation expert under Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579, 125 L. Ed. 2d 469, 113 S. Ct. 2786 (1993), and the district court's granting of Mrs. Benfield's motion for directed verdict as to Millers' arson defense. Millers also contends the trial court erred in directing a verdict against Millers' claim that Mrs. Benfield breached the concealment and fraud provision of the homeowners insurance contract. Finally, Millers argues that the district court erred when it determined Mrs. Benfield would not be barred from recovery under the insurance policy by the conduct of her co-insured, her ex-husband. Finding no abuse [**2] of discretion by the trial court in excluding the expert testimony of Millers' fire causation expert, and finding no error by the trial court in applying Florida's innocent co-insured doctrine to the facts of this case, we affirm in part. We reverse in part, however, to the extent that we find it was error on the part of the trial court to direct verdicts as to Millers' arson defense and as to Millers' concealment and fraud defense. Accordingly, we remand this matter to the district court for a new trial.
I. STATEMENT OF THE CASE
On January 13, 1988, Mrs. Benfield and her then husband, Richard M. Benfield, 1 entered into an insurance contract with Millers for homeowner's insurance for their home on 1838 Joyce Street in Sarasota, Florida. The policy issued to the Benfields is a standard homeowners insurance policy in that it describes the rights and obligations of the insurer and the insured under the insurance contract. Section I of the homeowner's policy issued by Millers provides protection for loss for personal property destroyed by fire. Included in the policy, however, are exclusions and conditions that limit this protection. 2 On July 6, 1992, the Benfield residence [**3] on Joyce Street caught fire. To date, the cause of this fire has not been determined.
Of some import to this dispute between insurer and insured is the [**4] relationship that Mrs. Benfield had with her husband. At the time of the fire, Janelle Benfield was married to Richard Benfield. Their marital relationship was a troubled one and Mr. Benfield had moved out of the house for an extended period before moving back into the house in December of 1991. Living together for economic reasons and for the sake of their daughter, the couple kept separate bank accounts and slept in separate rooms. Realizing their marriage was at an end, the Benfields listed their house with a realtor in May of 1992. Janelle Benfield sought to negotiate a property settlement with her husband, and sought her husband's execution of a quit claim deed of the marital home, their largest asset. Mr. Benfield refused to sign the quit claim deed, and Mrs. Benfield began plans to move out, going so far as to locate an apartment [*918] and to begin packing her belongings in the home.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
140 F.3d 915 *; 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS 8673 **; 49 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 549; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. C 1325
MICHIGAN MILLERS MUTUAL INSURANCE CORPORATION, a foreign corporation, Plaintiff-Counter-Defendant-Appellant, versus JANELLE R. BENFIELD, Defendant-Counter-Claimant-Appellee.
Subsequent History: As Amended May 15, 1998.
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. D. C. Docket No. 93-1283-CIV-T-17A. DISTRICT JUDGE: STEWART NEWBLATT.
Disposition: AFFIRMED IN PART, REVERSED IN PART, and REMANDED.
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Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Evidence, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Daubert Standard, General Overview, De Novo Review, Trials, Judgment as Matter of Law, Criminal Law & Procedure, Arson, Simple Arson, Elements, Insurance Law, Coverage, Arson & Intentional Loss, Evidence, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Erie Doctrine, Directed Verdicts, Liability & Performance Standards, Disclosure Obligations by Insureds, Fraudulent Intent, Materiality, Property Insurance, Obligations, Disclosure Obligations, Claim, Contract & Practice Issues, Policy Interpretation, Judicial Review, Types of Insurance, Innocent Insured Parties, Notice Requirements, Ambiguous Terms, Construction Against Insurers, Exclusions, Contracts Law, Affirmative Defenses, Fraud & Misrepresentation