Law School Case Brief
Van Bibber v. Hartford Acci. & Indem. Ins. Co. - 439 So. 2d 880 (Fla. 1983)
An injured party has no beneficial interest in a liability policy until that person has first obtained a judgment against an insured. Fla. Stat. § 627.7262 (Supp. 1982) (statute) transfers the accrual of a beneficial interest from the date of occurrence until the time an action brought on a tort has matured to a judgment. The statute is quite clear that no cause of action against an insurance company shall accrue until a judgment against an insured is obtained. Moreover, the statute authorizes insurance companies to insert nonjoinder provisions in their insurance policies. This requirement of the procedural rules raises the presumption that, unless the legislature affirmatively gives insurers the substantive right to insert nonjoinder clauses in liability policies, there is no basis in law for insurers to assume they have such contractual right as a special privilege not granted other citizens to contract immunity with their insureds from being sued as joint defendants by strangers.
VanBibber brought a personal injury suit naming a supermarket and insurer as defendants. The trial court dismissed insurer on the ground that Fla. Stat. § 627.7262 (nonjoinder of insurers) did not allow VanBibber to join the insurer in the case until VanBibber obtained a judgment against VanBibber's insured. The district court certified the issue of the constitutionality of the statute to the state supreme court.
Is § 627.7262 of the Florida Statutes constitutional?
The court held the statute was constitutional and was designed by the legislature to prohibit the accrual of causes of action against insurers until a judgment against an insured was obtained. Nevertheless, the court noted that a second issue arose concerning whether the statute was applicable to causes of action accruing prior to the effective date of the statute. The court determined that the statute was substantive and that absent legislative intent to the contrary, substantive statutes were prospective only. The court therefore held the statute was not applicable to the case at bar. The court affirmed the order of the trial judge that held the statute was constitutional but reversed the holding that the statute was applicable to the present suit and remanded for further proceedings.
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