In Alderman v. BCI Engineers & Scientists, Inc., ____ So.3d ____ (Fla. 2nd DCA Sept. 2, 2011), the insured homeowner hired BCI Engineers & Scientists, Inc. (BCI) to 1) perform a subsurface sinkhole investigation; and 2) supervise the remediation of the sinkhole activity. The insured also filed a claim with State Farm, his homeowner’s insurance company, for losses due to sinkhole. State Farm agreed to pay the sinkhole claim, and the remediation commenced. Some time during the process, the insured entered into a settlement agreement with State Farm releasing State Farm and any of its “contractors” and “privies” from any claims “in relation to the filing of insurance claims.”   

Unfortunately, the remediation went poorly, resulting in significant damage to the insured’s home. The homeowner brought suit against BCI for breach of contract and negligence. 

BCI moved for summary judgment alleging the release with State Farm applied to it, and that the insured had failed to prove that BCI have violated any applicable standard of care. The trial court granted BCI’s motion for summary judgment and threw the case out of court. The homeowner appealed.

The 2nd DCA reversed. BCI’s argued that the release applied to it because it was “contracted” with State Farm during the remediation phase. In point of fact, State Farm had “approved” BCI’s budget. But, the Court determined that this approval did not make it one of State Farm’s contractors. Therefore, the release did not apply to it. The Court also pointed out that the release didn’t apply to BCI because BCI’s contract with the homeowner was not “in relation to the filing of insurance claims.” 

The Court went on to hold that the homeowner had provided expert testimony from a geotechnical engineer that BCI had indeed failed to meet the applicable standard of care.