June 18, 2010

Court Upholds Seattle Condominium Association's Default Judgment Against Insurance Company

In 2005, the Lakewest Condominium Owners Association in Seattle discovered that several of its buildings required major repairs due to rain damage. The Association filed and pursued claims against numerous insurers to pay for the damage, which culminated in lawsuits against some of them. The Association was granted a default judgment in the amount of 7.5 million dollars against Tokio Marine & Fire Insurance Company, Ltd. in October of 2007. A default judgment is entered when a person is served with a lawsuit and does not respond within the time allowed by law. Tokio argued to the court more than one year after the judgment (the applicable deadline) that the judgment should be vacated. The court agreed with Tokio, but this ruling was reversed on appeal in an unpublished decision issued earlier this month. The association's default judgment is thus valid and enforceable against the insurance company.

Washington condominium and homeowners association boards should not be hesitant to file claims with their insurance companies when serious property damage occurs, and they should encourage owners to proactively contact their insurers as well. This is sometimes the only way to avoid major special assessments. It is sometimes necessary to sue insurance companies if they will not respond or if they deny claims that appear to be covered by the policy. Such litigation can obviously turn out very well indeed for the association if the insurer drops the ball and is found in default. The Lakewest case demonstrates that default judgments have value and will be upheld by the courts in some circumstances.