Archive for the 'NJ – Reverse Bad Faith' Category

SANCTIONS AGAINST INSURED REVERSED WHERE INSURER DID NOT SHOW INSURED’S BAD FAITH IN BRINGING FAILED LITIGATION AGAINST INSURER (New Jersey Appellate Division) (Unpublished)

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In this case, New Jersey’s Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal and grant of summary judgment to the insurer on all claims, but reversed the trial court’s award of frivolous litigation sanctions against the insured because there was no finding the insured acted in bad faith in bringing the claims.

Factual Background

The insurer provided the eighth layer of excess insurance in this Superstorm Sandy case. The primary and lower layers provided $75 Million, and the eighth layer provided another $50 Million above that.

In 2012, the insured hired a contractor to do repair and restoration work. The contractor allocated $950,000 to specific building repair and restoration work. The excess carriers all determined repair and restoration work was not covered. In 2014, the insured reached a global settlement with all insurers for $93.5 Million. The eighth layer insurance contributed $16 Million. The insured executed a release for any and all claims and demands for Superstorm Sandy property damage and business income losses, discharging the eighth layer insurer.

In 2015, however, the insured asked the eighth layer insurer to reconsider paying the contractor’s repair and restoration costs, after another anticipated source for this loss did not pan out. The eighth layer carrier refused. The insured brought suit in 2015.

The Litigation

The insured alleged it relied on the advice of the excess insurers’ adjuster and experts in how the repair and restoration costs were allocated, which resulted in it obtaining no sum to settle that out-of-pocket payment. The insured alleges that it only agreed to the 2014 settlement based on this bad advice, and would otherwise have included these repair and replacement costs in its negotiations and settlement with the insured, beyond the sum actually paid.

The insured brought various claims against the adjusters and experts, and claimed the eighth layer insurance was liable for their acts and omissions on an agency theory. The insured also claimed the eighth layer insurer was liable for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and bad faith in denying the claim for the repair and restoration costs. Defendants moved to dismiss all claims, which the trial court granted in part, including the unjust enrichment claim and some of the agency theory claims. The remaining claims were later dismissed on summary judgment.

The eighth layer insurer filed a motion against the insured for frivolous litigation sanctions. The trial court granted that motion, and ruled the insurer was entitled to the attorney’s fees and costs.

The insured appealed the grant of summary judgment and the sanctions.

The Appellate Division Affirms for the Insurer on the Merits

First, the Appellate Division found no support in the record that the release was only executed as the result of fraud. The insured was well aware it was settling all Superstorm Sandy related claims, that the repair and restoration costs were not part of the settlement, and that the release would bar Superstorm Sandy related claims against all insurers. The insured was also aware that the repair and restoration costs were subject to recovery regarding another entity and its insurers, and that the settling excess insurance companies would not agree to make their settlement contingent on the outcome of that separate matter.

Next, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s findings that there was no common law fraud or negligent misrepresentation by the agent or the insurer. It likewise affirmed judgment on the negligence claim on the basis that no expert testimony was proffered regarding the conduct of the independent insurance adjuster (which plaintiff was trying to bootstrap into a claim against the insurer as well).

The Appellate Division Reverses Sanctions Because there was no Finding of Bad Faith

The Appellate Division addressed the sanction award against the insured for frivolous litigation. [There were no sanctions against counsel.] The insurer’s attorneys had sent the insured’s counsel a letter stating the “complaint was frivolous because the release precluded … asserting any causes of action against [the eighth layer insurer].” The letter “also stated that [the] fraud claims were unsustainable because [the insured’s] representatives had acknowledged the [repair and restoration costs at issue] were not recoverable….” Despite this letter, the insured’s “counsel did not withdraw the complaint.”

A motion for attorneys’ fees and costs ensued. The insured and its counsel both asserted that they believed the claims had merit.

The trial judge found the claims frivolous on the basis that the insured’s claims had no reasonable basis in the law or equity, and there was no good faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law. Further, the trial judge found the insured knew that the repair and restoration costs would have to come from another source, and that the excess insurers would not make their settlement contingent on recovery of those costs from another source.

The Appellate Division reversed the frivolous litigation sanctions, finding the trial court relied upon the wrong standards. The frivolous litigation statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:15-59.1, which applies only to represented parties, requires a finding of bad faith on the plaintiff’s part. Here, there was no such finding. Thus, the claim failed.

The Appellate Division laid out these bad faith standards:

Where ‘a prevailing defendant’s allegation is based on the absence of a ‘reasonable basis in law or equity’ for the plaintiff’s claim and the plaintiff is represented by an attorney, an award cannot be sustained if the ‘plaintiff did not act in bad faith in asserting’ or pursuing the claim.” …. A finding of bad faith is essential because “clients generally rely on their attorneys ‘to evaluate the basis in law or equity of a claim or defenses,’ and ‘a client who relies in good faith on the advice of counsel cannot be found to have known that his or her claim or defense was baseless.’” …. Furthermore, under the FLS, the party seeking the imposition of sanctions “bears the burden of proving that the non-prevailing party acted in bad faith.” …. We have held that “a grant of a motion for summary judgment in favor of a [prevailing party], without more, does not support a finding that the [non-prevailing party] filed or pursued the claim in bad faith.”

The trial court did reference Rule 1:48, which only applies to attorneys and pro se parties, and thus had no application in this matter.

Date of Decision: October 4, 2019

Fedway Assocs. v. Engle Martin & Assocs., Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division DOCKET NO. A-0297-18T4, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2048 (N.J. App. Div. Oct. 4, 2019) (Currier, Hoffman, Yannotti, JJ.) (Unpublished)

TRIAL COURT ERRED GRANTING JUDGMENT ON FRAUD CLAIM TO VOID THE POLICY AT THE END OF PLAINTIFF’S CASE (New Jersey Appellate Division)

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This case focuses on procedural issues and burdens of proof at trial, concerning whether the insured’s alleged fraud during an investigation was grounds to void a policy. At trial, the insured put on her case, and the carrier moved for involuntary dismissal (directed verdict) at the end of plaintiff’s case. The trial court granted judgment to the insurer, and the Appellate Division reversed.

The insured’s claim revolved around a fire loss. In the years before that loss, the insured had a relatively small roof claim, and a large water damage claim. During her testimony at trial, the insured described a meeting with the carrier’s investigator during the fire loss claim. The investigator was not merely a claim adjuster, but was actually a fraud unit investigator – unknown to the insured.

The insured admitted she denied there was any prior damage claim on the water loss, knowing this was not true. She felt it was not the investigator’s business and had nothing to do with the fire loss. The investigator had the insured’s application, which did not include either prior loss. This was part of the investigation, again unknown to the insured. The application itself, however, was never introduced into evidence at trial.

This interview during the claim process was not taken under oath. At her subsequent examination under oath, the insured did admit the two prior loss claims.

Both courts’ focus was on the misleading statement to the investigator about the water damage claim, rather than on the application’s not including the two losses. The two key elements were misrepresentation and materiality. The trial court found a material misrepresentation and voided the policy after plaintiff put on her case.

The Appellate Division disagreed, looking closely at the procedural setting and burdens of proof, in finding that the materiality element was not proved. The court especially noted the different burdens placed on defendant when dismissal is sought at the end of plaintiff’s case, rather than at the end of all parties’ cases.

Plaintiff’s case-in-chief did not include the original application, and the Appellate Division found there was insufficient evidence within plaintiff’s case itself to demonstrate how the water loss was relevant to the fire loss claim, or important in determining the insurer’s course of action. Moreover, the misrepresentation claim was an affirmative defense, with the insurer bearing the burden of proof. As the court stated:

“Accordingly, regardless of whether the information in an application not introduced at trial came from plaintiff or someone else, there was no factual basis for the [trial] judge to find that [the insured] ‘clearly tried to mislead [the investigator] as to something that seemed to justify what looked like misstatements in the application.’ Without the original insurance application or testimony from anyone at [the insurer] as to the nature of the investigation, the trial court clearly erred when it involuntary dismissed [the] suit based on her willful misrepresentation of material facts following her fire loss.”

Finally, the court observed that even though its ruling was based on a fundamental failure to prove materiality in the procedural circumstances at trial below, the insured would not be precluded from arguing at re-trial “a fact-finder could also consider whether [she] corrected her misstatements promptly in her examination under oath in considering their materiality.” July 30, 2019

Pokhan v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division DOCKET NO. A-3336-17T3, 2019 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1699, 2019 WL 3425917 (App. Div. July 30, 2019) (Accurso, Fuentes, JJ.)

INSUREDS HAVE A DUTY OF CANDOR IN POST-LOSS INVESTIGATION AND CANNOT MISREPRESENT MATERIAL FACTS (New Jersey Appellate Division)

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In this case, the New Jersey Appellate Division provides a detailed analysis of the notice requirements due from insured to insurer in UIM cases, where the underlying tortfeasor is seeking to settle the claim. The key is that notice must be given before the underlying claim has been settled and released, to protect the insurer’s subrogation options and rights. The court also cites generally principles governing an insured’s duty of candor.

The court was particularly concerned with the situation where the insured informs the insurer that a potential settlement is on the table, when the case is already settled and the insurer’s subrogation rights are actually compromised.

In this case, the insureds’ counsel had informed the UIM insurer that a settlement offer was pending, when in fact the case had already settled and potential claims against the tortfeasor were released. The UIM insurer refused to pay benefits in these circumstances, and the insureds sued for UIM benefits.

The court found the New Jersey Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Ferrante v. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company controlling. In Ferrante, the Supreme Court held that if “the insured, regardless of his state of mind, fails to give the UIM carrier any notice of the UIM claim until after the final resolution of the underlying tort action, thereby causing the irretrievable loss of the carrier’s rights to subrogation and intervention before the carrier has ever learned of the existence of the claim, coverage is forfeited.”

The Ferrante court made general observations about an insured’s duties and obligations. “Our case law has routinely emphasized the importance of candor by insureds and the obligation to act in a forthright, open, and honest manner with their carriers throughout the entire process of their claim.” The insured has a commitment “not to misrepresent material facts [that] extends beyond the inception of the policy to a post-loss investigation.” Insureds have been given incentive to tell the truth, and it “would dilute that incentive to allow an insured to gamble that a lie will turn out to be unimportant.” In the UIM context, these general rules mean that courts should “seek to avoid rewarding insureds for omitting key details in a UIM claim.”
Date of Decision: December 21, 2018

Iellimo v. Amica Mut. Ins. Co., Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division DOCKET NO. A-4975-16T1, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2795, 2018 WL 6712251 (App. Div. Dec. 21, 2018) (DeAlmeida and O’Connor, JJ.) (Not Precedential)

 

NOVEMBER 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: JUDGMENT FOR RESCISSION AND RESTITUTION UPHELD ON APPEAL FOR MATERIAL MISREPRESENTATIONS IN OBTAINING POLICY (New Jersey Superior Court)

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In this case, the court granted the insurer a judgment notwithstanding the verdict. The case involved misrepresentations in applying for insurance, specifically involving whether the insureds actually lived in the home they were seeking to insure.

The court recited a litany of evidence from the trial showing the homeowner wife knew that home for which she and her husband were seeking coverage had never actually been owner occupied, despite many representations to the contrary. Once the insurer discovered the misrepresentations, it issued a notice of cancellation. The home was destroyed by fire after the notice of cancellation, but before the cancellation effective date and the insureds sought coverage.

The carrier refused to pay, and rescinded the policy based on fraudulent representations. It did, however, pay $1.4 Million to the innocent mortgage company named on the policy. It took an assignment of the mortgage after payment.

The insured brought various claims, including bad faith, and the insurer counterclaimed for equitable fraud/rescission, unjust enrichment, and restitution as well as claims under the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (IFPA). Prior to trial, the court granted the insurer summary judgment on the bad faith, consumer protection law, and attorney’s fee claims. At trial, the jury ruled for the insured on the breach of contract claim and against the insurer on all of its claims.

On the JNOV motion, the trial court concluded that the evidence, even taken in a light most favorable to the insureds, showed misrepresentations in obtaining the policy and during the fire investigation. It thus allowed for rescission and restitution.

On appeal, the Appellate Division observed that equitable rescission can be based on even innocent misrepresentations, as long as they are material misrepresentations. The appellate court agreed the representations made in obtaining the policy were both false and material. Though unnecessary to make the equitable fraud case, the court also found the record showed the misrepresentations were intentional. In sum, it upheld the judgment in favor of rescission and restitution.

Date of Decision: November 14, 2018

Sesztak v. Great N. Ins. Co., New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division DOCKET NO. A-2846-15T4, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2491 (N.J. Super. App. Div. Nov. 14, 2018) (DeAlmeida, Mawla, Yannotti, JJ.)

OCTOBER 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: NEW JERSEY INSURANCE COMMISSIONER PURSUES CIVIL PENALTIES UNDER FRAUD PREVENTION ACT (New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division) (Not Precedential)

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This case involved New Jersey’s Commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance’s pursuit of a claim under the Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (IFPA). The trial court found that the insured falsely claimed she was injured while driving, and it imposed civil penalties, including counsel fees.

Before the commissioner’s action, the insured actually won $25,000 in arbitration against her carrier, but at the trial de novo the jury concluded that the accident never occurred and found for the insurer. After the jury verdict, the commissioner brought this IFPA action. The insured appealed on various procedural grounds, most of which were rejected. The appellate court did remand, however, as the special civil part judge did not provide the reasoning behind the civil penalties imposed.

Date of Decision: October 19, 2018

Badolato v. McMillan, Superior Court Appellate Division DOCKET NO. A-5474-16T1, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2311, 2018 WL 5091799 (New Jersey Appellate Division Oct. 19, 2018) (Koblitz, Ostrer, JJ.)

 

SEPTEMBER 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: INSURED’S FRAUD ON SMALL FRACTION OF TOTAL CLAIM RESULTS IN FORFEITURE OF ALL SUMS PAID, UNDER BOTH PENNSYLVANIA COMMON LAW AND NEW JERSEY STATUTORY LAW (Philadelphia Federal)

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The insurer sought damages and rescission under Pennsylvania common law and New Jersey’s Insurance Fraud Prevention Act. There was a fire at the insured’s New Jersey shore home, and allegedly subsequent theft of personal property from the home. The insured made a claim for lost personal property and submitted photographs of the lost items.

After investigation, the insurer concluded that the photographs were taken after the fire loss at issue, at a different home owned by the insured in Philadelphia. Thus, contrary to the insured’s sworn statement, these items were not lost or stolen from her shore home.

The policy provided there was no coverage “if, whether before or after a loss, an ‘insured’ has: 1. intentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance; 2. engaged in fraudulent conduct; or 3. made false statements relating to this insurance.”

The insurer denied the claims for the personal property in the photos on the basis that the insured “intentionally concealed and/or misrepresented material facts concerning [her] claim for personal property, and made false statements regarding the items that were allegedly lost due to the fire or theft.”

The insured brought breach of contract and bad faith claims, which were dismissed for lack of prosecution. The insurer’s fraud claims were raised as counterclaims. The insured did not file any opposition, and by the time the insurer moved for summary judgment, the insured was pro se.

On the Pennsylvania common law fraud claims, the court observed: “It follows, as the night follows the day, that [the insured] has suffered no personal property loss for the items photographed since she still had possession of those undamaged items after the fire and alleged theft.”

The court not only granted relief on the personal property damage claims for the allegedly lost items, but as to the entire loss, including the sum paid for the value of the home. The court stated:

“The record is clear that [the insurer] made payments … in reliance on what it believed at the time to be her truthful representations about her losses as a result of the fire and alleged theft. [The insurer paid] $351,767.17 in dwelling coverage and $10,000 in personal property coverage. As it turned out, there is no genuine dispute about the fact that [the insured] made materially false representations … in an effort to mislead it into paying her for personal property which she did not lose. … Under the terms of the insurance policy, no coverage is provided if the insured either before or after the loss intentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact, engaged in fraudulent conduct, or made a false statement relating to their insurance. Clearly, [the insured] breached these provisions of the policy.”

Accordingly, we will enter summary judgment … against [the insured] on the counterclaim of common law fraud for $361,767.16, the amount …paid to her.”

The court also granted equitable rescission under Pennsylvania common law fraud principles, and granted relief under New Jersey’s Insurance Fraud Prevention Act. The court noted that the New Jersey statute includes recovery of reasonable investigation expenses, costs of suit and attorney’s fees. However, the court did not appear to award damages for investigation, costs or legal fees.

The Act itself provides for relief against an insured who “(1) Presents or causes to be presented any written or oral statement as part of, or in support of or opposition to, a claim for payment or other benefit pursuant to an insurance policy . . . knowing that the statement contains any false or misleading information concerning any fact or thing material to the claim; or . . . (3) Conceals or knowingly fails to disclose the occurrence of an event which affects any person’s initial or continued right or entitlement to (a) any insurance benefit or payment or (b) the amount of any benefit or payment to which the person is entitled[.] N.J.S.A. § 17:33A-4(a).(1, 3).”

The same facts supporting the common law fraud finding supported this statutory relief.

Finally, the court also awarded over $45,000 in prejudgment interest on the Pennsylvania claims.

Date of Decision: August 21, 2018

Pallante v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-1142, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141427 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 2018) (Bartle, J.)

AUGUST 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: COURT DISMISSES FRAUD CLAIM AGAINST INSURED (New Jersey Appellate Division)

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The carrier brought action against its insured alleging violations of the New Jersey Insurance Fraud Prevention Act, breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment. The trial court dismissed the claims and the appellate division affirmed. Both courts found the evidence did not support a fraud claim, and that any such claim was subject to a general release.

Date of Decision: August 16, 2018

Selective Casualty Insurance Co. v. Exclusive Auto Collision Center, Inc., DOCKET NO. A-0568-17T1, 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1935, 2018 WL 3892740 (N.J. App. Div. Aug. 16, 2018) (Suter and Whipple, JJ.)

 

MAY 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: “OVERWHELMING CREDIBLE EVIDENCE” OF INSURED’S MATERIAL MISREPRESENTATION JUSTIFIED COVERAGE DENIAL (Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division)

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The insured law firm submitted a renewal application for a professional liability policy. Asked whether he knew of any potential legal malpractice claims pending against him, the insured answered “no.” The insurer renewed the policy, and the insured later faced a malpractice claim based upon circumstances that preexisted the renewal application.

The insurer denied coverage alleging a material misrepresentation, and argued that the policy was void ab initio. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurer. The insured appealed, and argued that the trial court erred in determining the insured made a material misrepresentation.

The Appellate Division stated that “a subjective standard applies when considering a challenge to an insured’s prior knowledge representation[,]” however, “subjective intent may not be controlling when the undisputed facts . . . reveal otherwise.” The Court found “overwhelming credible evidence showing” that the insured knew about a potential malpractice claim at the time he filled out the renewal application. This evidence came in the form of the insured’s own deposition testimony. As a result, the Court stated that the insured made a material misrepresentation on the renewal application, and this misrepresentation justified the insurer’s denial of coverage.

Date of Decision: May 1, 2018

Ironshore Indemnity v. Pappas & Wolf, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-0959-16T1 (Per Curiam), 2018 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1010 (N.J. App. Div. May 1, 2018) (Per Curiam).

APRIL 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: INSURED’S FAILURE TO GIVE NOTICE OF IMPORTANT POST-LOSS ACTIVITY BREACHED POLICY AND ELIMINATED COVERAGE (New Jersey Supreme Court)

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This case involved the duty of an insured to keep his UIM carrier informed in connection with the underlying tort litigation. By failing to give timely notice, the insured lost coverage.

In its opinion, the New Jersey Supreme Court stated:

“Our case law has routinely emphasized the importance of candor by insureds and the obligation to act in a forthright, open, and honest manner with their carriers throughout the entire process of their claim. See Longobardi v. Chubb Ins. Co. of N.J., 121 N.J. 530, 539, 582 A.2d 1257 (1990) (“[A]n insured’s commitment not to misrepresent material facts extends beyond the inception of the policy to a post-loss investigation.”) We have provided insureds “an incentive to tell the truth. It would dilute that incentive to allow an insured to gamble that a lie will turn out to be unimportant.” Id. at 541-42, 582 A.2d 1257, 582 A.2d 1257. Although this case arises in a different context, we seek to avoid rewarding insureds for omitting key details in a UIM claim.”

The insured lost coverage for his failure to notify the UIM insurer of the underlying claim and its progress. The court’s decision was “not rooted in [the insured’s] state of mind, but rather in his actions.” The Supreme Court adopted the Appellate Division dissenter’s approach on the issue: “If . . . the insured, regardless of his state of mind, fails to give the UIM carrier any notice of the UIM claim until after the final resolution of the underlying tort action, thereby causing the irretrievable loss of the carrier’s rights to subrogation and intervention before the carrier has ever learned of the existence of the claim, coverage is forfeited.” (Emphasis in original).

Thus, an insured breaches the insurance policy terms by a delay in giving notice until after an arbitration, high-low agreement or jury trial.

Date of Decision: April 11, 2018

Ferrante v. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, A-87 September Term 2016, 078496, 2018 N.J. LEXIS 477 (Supreme Court of New Jersey April 11, 2018)

 

NOVEMBER 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: FEDERAL DISTRICT COURT WOULD NOT ABSTAIN IN DECLARATORY JUDGMENT MATTER BASED ON ALLEGED FRAUD IN INSURANCE APPLICATION (New Jersey Federal)

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An insurer brought a declaratory judgment action seeking policy rescission based upon alleged misstatements concerning the insured’s business in the application process. The insured was subject to a liability suit in state court, and asked the federal court to abstain from hearing this federal action.

The federal court refused. It cited recent Third Circuit case law making clear that there is no policy favoring blanket abstention of insurance declaratory judgment actions; and focused on the fact that the two cases were not parallel proceedings and were not substantially similar.

Date of Decision: October 20, 2017

Scottsdale Indemnity Co. v. Collazos, Civil No. 16-8239 (RBK/KMW), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 173990 (D.N.J. Oct. 20, 2017) (Kugler, J.)