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Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A.

Advocates for Insurance Policyholders

An insurance carrier collects premiums from its policyholders in exchange for a promise to pay a claim that meets its specific requirements. When that financial promise is broken, Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin, P.A. serves as an advocate for individual or business policyholders.

“Insurance provides an invaluable service at the point of someone’s greatest need, so the insurer has enormous leverage over the claimant,” says Brenton N. Ver Ploeg, founder of the 18-year-old firm, which has offices in Miami and Orlando. “We step into the case when insurance companies have delayed or denied claims, failed to defend them against lawsuits or acted in bad faith toward the policyholder.”

 Brenton N. Ver Ploeg  and R. Hugh Lumpkin

After reviewing the policies, the underlying facts and the position of the insurance companies, the firm’s attorneys develop a strategy to resolve the case as rapidly as possible. In contrast, insurers often try to delay payment as long as possible.

“What we do is very difficult,” says partner R. Hugh Lumpkin. “It requires enormous amounts of knowledge about how insurance companies think and what motivates them, as well as the wording in their policies and the applicable case law. In building a case, you have to be very precise in laying the foundation so you gain the attention — and the respect — of the insurance companies.”

Today, the firm’s clients range from large corporations and mid-size businesses to individuals. About half the cases are handled on a contingency basis while most commercial cases are billed on an hourly basis.
“One of the satisfying things about this practice is being able to help our clients come through difficult financial times,” Lumpkin says. “For example, there is a 1,000-employee company that might not be in business if they hadn’t hired us to represent their interests against an insurance carrier. We can bring about that kind of result quietly without fanfare on a day in and day out basis.”

Carving Out a Niche Practice

For more than 20 years, Ver Ploeg practiced insurance litigation at Shutts & Bowen, mainly representing insurance companies. In 1995, he launched a new policyholder-oriented firm with the help of his wife, Anthea Williams, who served as the firm’s business manager until her death in 2008.  The firm focuses solely on insurance coverage disputes, including those arising from the failure to indemnify (pay claims) and failure to defend policyholders in lawsuits.

Lumpkin joined the firm in 1999, bringing extensive experience in complex commercial litigation, insurance coverage and appellate representation. He now works on large commercial litigation cases, and recently obtained along with partner Meghan Moore and associate Allen Bonner, a $12 million verdict with punitive damages in a South Carolina bad faith case, currently on appeal.

Through the years, Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin has grown and now has 27 lawyers, two attorneys of counsel and about 20 staffers. “There are firms in Florida that do segments of what we do,” Ver Ploeg says. “Some do common law bad faith, disability or bad faith and large commercial insurance coverage disputes. But there are no firms, except perhaps some insurance recovery departments in the big firms, that do what we do.”

While Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin has enough business to support 50-plus attorneys, it is very selective about hiring new lawyers, says Lumpkin. “We want people with healthy egos, but not at the expense of internal fighting and dissension. It’s very important for us to look forward to coming to work every day.”

Ver Ploeg says the firm has a democratic “open door” culture that fosters a cohesive working environment. It also encourages a civic spirit, and members of the firm handle children’s cases in juvenile court on a pro bono basis, and are active volunteers in community causes, such as the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the Overtown Youth Center and feeding the homeless at Camillus House.

Both Ver Ploeg and Lumpkin frequently teach and lecture about insurance topics. “The more people know about insurance the better,” says Ver Ploeg. “Education is one of the best ways to protect yourself from predatory practices.”

A Changing Climate

Ver Ploeg & Lumpkin handles a wide variety in types of litigation against insurance companies.  “Insurance affects almost everything,” Ver Ploeg says. “You shouldn’t drive a car, own a home or be a responsible parent without insurance.

Almost every case in commercial litigation, with the possible exception of matters in small claims court, also involves insurance. Unraveling those aspects of coverage has proven to be a fascinating puzzle for our attorneys.”

Since 1991, a claimant has to win the underlying claims case before proceeding with a bad faith lawsuit. However, if successful, the insurer is responsible for paying attorney fees, Lumpkin says, adding that Florida has one of the most consumer-favorable statutes for bad faith litigation in the country.

“When we look at a case, it’s not just the dollar amount of the claim that’s in dispute,” Ver Ploeg says. “We also try to evaluate the conduct of the insurance company, because sometimes that’s more important than the size of the case.”

For example, the firm represented a client with a $50 million claim against a carrier that had not made a payout greater than $100,000 in the past five years, according to Ver Ploeg. “After spending $3 million for its own attorneys, the insurer tried to reduce our client’s claim to $40 million in mediation,” he says. “If that amount had been the outcome, the insurer would have put $7 million in its own pockets.”

That practice of delaying claims payments is standard procedure for many insurance companies today, says Ver Ploeg. “I handled a $3.5 million environmental claim in 1997, where we were able to resolve the issues in just a couple of weeks,” he says. “Now, insurers try to hang onto their money and play the float for as long as possible. We have to be ready, willing and able to go to trial. It’s our job to make sure that any gains from delaying payment are transferred to our client.”

Ver Ploeg believes that these delaying tactics on paying claims harm the reputation of the insurance industry. “Once you lose the certainty of a payoff, you begin to question the need for buying a policy in the first place,” he says. “That’s what leads to greater regulation, as was the case in the 1930s when most state insurance statutes were adopted.”

Both Ver Ploeg and Lumpkin say they take a great deal of satisfaction in obtaining equitable settlements and jury awards for their clients. “With us, it’s personal as well as professional,” Lumpkin says. “At our firm, we do our best to make sure that justice is served in every case.”

South Florida Legal Guide 2014 Edition

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