Following a 2013 Colorado hailstorm, Summit Park submitted a claim for storm damage to residential buildings. Following an insurance appraisal that concluded with Mr. Keys and an umpire awarding approximately $10 million for damage from the storm, Auto-Owners promptly paid the award while reserving its rights to recoup the payment based on irregularities in the appraisal process, including Mr. Keys’ partiality. Auto-Owners demonstrated that Mr. Keys had numerous, extensive undisclosed relationships with the insured’s law firm, Merlin Law Group, and its clients, often working on a contingency basis for a percent of the recovered insurance money (and on some occasions for as much as 20%-30% of the award amounts). Auto-Owners argued that Mr. Keys was anything but an impartial appraiser, as he had significant and lucrative business dealings with the insured’s attorneys and had direct financial incentive to inflate appraisal amounts. The Court noted that the appraisal award signed by Mr. Keys was $3.47 million—47%—greater than the amount Summit Park’s own public adjuster calculated prior to the filing of the lawsuit. Auto-Owners further demonstrated that Mr. Keys and Merlin Law Group attorneys had formed undisclosed fiduciary relationships, including attorney-client engagements in which Merlin Law Group attorneys had represented Mr. Keys in litigation or had performed transactional legal work for his insurance businesses. The Court stated: “While Keys’ relationship with Merlin is sufficient by itself to render him other than impartial, the totality of the circumstances here make this conclusion unavoidable.” That’s the nutshell. Ugly details, however, are found in the Memorandum Opinion and Order on the “sanctions” against both Merlin and its’ attorneys including the most severe of all sanctions, “dismissal”. It starts on page 8, paragraph 1 under the title: “Bad Faith.” I find that Merlin—including Pettinato and Harris individually—acted in bad faith. Merlin’s failure to disclose key facts about the Merlin-Keys relationship, namely that Merlin and Keys had worked on behalf of the same insured in dozens of prior cases and that Merlin attorneys served as personal counsel to Keys and Keys’ companies on multiple occasions. Despite these facts, neither Pettinato, nor Harris, nor anyone else from the Merlin firm ever corrected Harris’ disclosure that Keys “does not have any significant prior business relationship with the Merlin Law Group” or Keys’ own, nearly identical disclosure. But that is not all. It appears that Merlin and Summit Park took steps to conceal the existence of the contingent-cap fee agreement under which Keys was originally retained in April 2015. [Emphasis Added] When your writer first read the charges against Merlin Law, one of Florida’s leading plaintiff firms specializing in Florida’s property market, my first thought was vindication. After all, I’ve been building the case that Florida’s premiums are the highest in America due in large measure to the complicity between some plaintiff firms and some unsavory emergency responders within the ranks of public adjusters, water extractors, roofers and others.