Florida's Non-Joinder Statute Protects Insurers From Being Joined To Declaratory Judgment Actions As Well As Negligence Suits

By: David B. Shelton

07.17.13

In Lantana Ins., Ltd. v. Thornton, (decided July 17, 2013), the Third District Court of Appeal held that Florida’s Non-Joinder statute, section 627.4136, barred a third-party claimant from asserting a declaratory judgment claim against a tortfeasor/insured’s insurance carrier to determine coverage. Florida’s Non-Joinder statute was originally enacted “to ensure that the availability of insurance has no influence on the jury's determination of the insured's liability and damages.” Gen. Star. Indem. Co. v. Boran Craig Barber Engel Constr. Co., 895 So. 2d 1136, 1138 (Fla. 2d DCA 2005). Thus, the Non-Joinder statute has been applied to prevent claimants from joining a tortfeasor/insured’s liability carrier in a negligence suit for damages filed against the tortfeasor. See e.g. Universal Sec. Ins. Co. v. Spreadbury, 524 So. 2d 1167 (Fla. 2d DCA 1988).

However, in Thornton, the claimant sought to join one of the tortfeasor/insured’s insurance carriers to a declaratory judgment action filed by a second insurance carrier. Thus, there were no concerns about the presence of insurance unduly influencing the jury in awarding damages to the claimant. Nevertheless, the Third District held that Florida’s Non-Joinder prevented the claim, agreeing with the Second District Court of Appeal which reached a similar result in Southern Owners Ins. Co. v. Mathieu, 67 So. 3d 1156 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011). The statute precludes the third-party claimant from bringing any claim against the tortfeasor’s insurer until conditions are satisfied.