Archive for the 'PA – Agents and Administrators' Category

DENYING COVERAGE AFTER REPRESENTATIVES CONFIRMED COVERAGE IS BASIS FOR BAD FAITH (Western District)

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In this case, the insured made a water damage claim, as well as claims for roof damages. She hired a public adjuster to pursue the claims. The insured alleged her public adjuster met with the carrier’s adjuster, and the carrier’s adjuster authorized the insured to proceed with remediating the water damage. Five months later, the carrier sent out its own contractor to inspect the insured’s roof, and that contractor informed the public adjuster that the insured’s roof claims were covered.

The carrier subsequently denied all coverage and refused to pay on any claims. Once the insured retained counsel, however, the carrier agreed to pay part of the claim (for water damage).

The insured sued for breach of contract and bad faith, along with a variety of other claims. (The court allowed a negligent misrepresentation claim to stand against the carrier, rejecting the carrier’s gist of the action argument, on the basis that duties outside the contract were assumed and potentially violated.)

The carrier moved to dismiss the bad faith claim. It asserted that its contractor had no power to bind on coverage, and that it offered to pay the insured’s water damage losses after the insured retained counsel. The court rejected these arguments and allowed the bad faith claims to proceed.

The insured first pleaded coverage was due and her claim was denied. She then specifically alleged that two of the carrier’s representatives agreed coverage was due, establishing that the insurer was without a reasonable basis to deny coverage. This met the first bad faith element.

Next, as to proving the second element concerning the insurer’s intent, plaintiff had alleged the carrier’s two “representatives, upon reviewing [the] insurance claim and/or observing the Property, determined that the damage at issue was covered under the Policy. … These facts, if true, support a finding that [the insurer] knew or recklessly disregarded that it lacked a reasonable basis to deny [the] insurance claim, i.e. that [it] knew, through its representatives, that the damage at issue was covered under the Policy but still chose to deny benefits.”

Eventually offering to pay part of the insured’s claim did not eliminate potential bad faith, as the insured pleaded there was no reasonable basis to deny the entire claim.

The court did agree that the insured could not recover compensatory damages for unpaid insurance benefits under the bad faith statute, but this relief was available under other counts.

Date of Decision: June 3, 2020

Nelson v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., U.S. District Court Western District of Pennsylvania 2:19-cv-01382-RJC, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97239 (W.D. Pa. June 3, 2020) (Colville, J.)

 

BAD FAITH CLAIM CAN PROCEED EVEN THOUGHT CONTRACT CLAIM DISMISSED AS UNTIMELY; ADJUSTOR AND INVESTIGATOR NOT SUBJECT TO BAD FAITH STATUTE (Philadelphia Federal)

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This case involved breach of contract and bad faith claims against the insurer based on its decision not to cover the alleged theft of jewelry. The insurer engaged an investigation firm to look into the theft. The individual investigator assigned to the claim raised questions about either the ownership of the jewelry, or whether it was actually stolen in a burglary.

The insurer was granted judgment on the pleadings as to the breach of insurance contract claim. The policy had a one-year limitations period for brining suit, and the insured failed to file her action within one year.

Even though there was no coverage due because of the contractual limitations period, however, the court denied summary judgment on the bad faith claim. The insurer argued that the insured’s “deposition testimony shows that she cannot meet her burden of establishing bad faith.” The court found this argument premature.

The case had been removed to federal court and immediately placed in the arbitration track. There were no formal discovery requests from any party. The court found that the “litigation that has ensued does not preclude full and fair discovery on fact-driven claims that remain on the bad-faith count.” Thus, summary judgment was premature, and the motion was dismissed without prejudice. Judge Rufe added a requirement that the parties had to report jointly regarding to the court on what discovery was being pursued, if any, heading into the arbitration.

[Note: The insurer apparently did not attempt to argue that if the contract claim was dismissed, then the bad faith claim necessarily failed. There is some case law holding if the contract claim is dismissed on the basis of a contractual limitations period, the bad faith claim can still proceed. See, e.g., Doylestown Electrical Supply Co. v. Maryland Casualty Ins. Co., 942 F. Supp. 1018 (E.D. Pa. 1996) and March v. Paradise Mutual Ins. Co., 646 A.2d 1254 (Pa. Super. 1994), appeal denied, 540 Pa. 613, 656 A.2d 118 (1995).]

Finally, the insured attempted to amend the complaint to add claims against the insurer’s claim adjustor, the company it hired to investigate the claim and the individual investigator. The court found these claims meritless and would not allow amendment.

An individual adjustor working for an insurer is not an insurer. Thus, the individual adjustor was not subject to (i) a breach of contract claim because he was not a party to the contract; or (ii) the bad faith claim because Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute only applies to insurers. The same reasoning applied to the investigators.

Date of Decision: April 30, 2020

Holden v. Homesite Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-2167, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75904 (E.D. Pa. April 30, 2020) (Rufe, J.)

 

NO BAD FAITH: (1) NO BENEFIT DUE; (2) NO ESTOPPEL UNDER THE UIPA OR UCSP REGULATIONS; (3) AN OVERSIGHT CAUSING DELAY IS NOT BAD FAITH (Philadelphia Federal)

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The court described this as the case of the missing email. The insurance policy at issue covered various cars. The insured emailed its broker to add another vehicle to the policy. The broker claims it never got the email, and thus never asked the insurer to issue an endorsement adding the new car to the policy. As things sometimes go in life, the new car was involved in a collision, damaging another vehicle as well as its own new car.

The insured reported the claim. However, the insured identified its vehicle as one of existing cars listed in the policy, rather than the new unlisted vehicle. The insurer accepted coverage, and even paid damages to the other driver. The insurer later reversed itself on coverage once its appraiser determined the insured’s vehicle was not the car identified in the claim form, and was not covered under the policy.

The police report did list the correct vehicle. The insurer had the police report at the time it initially provided coverage, and only reversed itself when its appraiser realized that the damaged car was not the car on the claim form and was not listed in the policy.

The insured sued for breach of contract and bad faith, among other claims against the insurer as well as the broker. The insurer moved for summary judgment, which the court granted.

There is no breach of contract, or estoppel under the UIPA or UCSP regulations

First, there was no breach of contract, as the vehicle at issue never became part of the policy. The insured argued, however, that the insured was estopped from denying coverage under the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA) and the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices (UCSP) regulations governing “Standards for prompt, fair and equitable settlements applicable to insurers”. The insured relied on 31 Pa. Code § 146.7(a)(1), which states that, “Within 15 working days after receipt by the insurer of properly executed proofs of loss, the first-party claimant shall be advised of the acceptance or denial of the claim by the insurer.”

Judge Wolson rejected the statutory/regulatory argument for three reasons:

  1. There is no private right of action under the UIPA and UCSP regulations, and only Pennsylvania’s Insurance Commissioner can enforce the UIPA and UCSP regulations.

  2. The policy itself did not incorporate the UIPA or UCSP obligations or impose those obligations on the insurer. “Absent the incorporation of these obligations into the Policy, their potential violation does not breach the Policy.”

  3. The doctrines of waiver or estoppel cannot “create an insurance contract where none existed.”

THERE IS NO BAD FAITH

  1. The broker is not an insurer subject to the bad faith statute

First, the court recognized that there was no sustainable statutory bad faith action against the broker because it was not an insurer.

  1. There is no bad faith where no benefit is denied

Next, as to the insurer, “To prevail on a bad faith claim, a plaintiff must present clear and convincing evidence that, among other things, an insurer ‘did not have a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy’ or that an insurer committed a ‘frivolous or unfounded refusal to pay proceeds of a policy.’” Because the insurer had no contractual obligation to pay its refusal could not have been unreasonable, and the claim failed.

  1. The UIPA and UCSP regulations do no prevent changing a coverage decision based on new information

The court rejected another argument based on the UIPA and UCSP regulations cited above. The insured argued the failure to pay was unreasonable once the insurer accepted coverage. The court found, however, the UCSP regulations did not “prevent an insurer from changing a coverage determination based on new information.”

More importantly to the court, the insured adduced no case law adding such a gloss to section 146.7, i.e. a mandate that once coverage was accepted it could never be denied under any circumstances. Thus, it was reasonable for the insurer to interpret that regulation to permit an insurer to revise a coverage decision based on new information.

  1. A Delay based on an Oversight is not the Basis for Bad Faith

Finally, any delay in revising its coverage determination was likewise not bad faith. Citing the 2007 DeWalt decision, the court observed that an “insurer’s actions in allegedly delaying investigation did not constitute bad faith under Pennsylvania law [when] there was no evidence that such delay was deliberate or knowing, or was unreasonable.”

While the carrier “probably could have been more diligent” in determining which vehicle was involved in the collision by looking at the police report earlier, “an insurer ‘need not show that the process used to reach its conclusion was flawless or that its investigatory methods eliminated possibilities at odds with its conclusion.’” There was nothing in the record to establish the insurer “acted with reckless disregard of its obligations or otherwise fell so short that it acted in bad faith.”

Date of Decision: April 1, 2020

Live Face on Web, LLC v. Merchants Insurance Group, U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania Case No. 2:19-cv-00528-JDW, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56852 (E.D. Pa. April 1, 2020) (Wolson, J.)

Our thanks to attorney Daniel Cummins of the excellent Tort Talk Blog for bringing this case to our attention.  We also note the Tort Talk Blog’s three recent posts on post-Koken motions to sever and stay bad faith claims in the Western District, York County, and Lancaster County.

BROKERS AND AGENTS ARE NOT INSURERS SUBJECT TO STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIMS (Western District)

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This is Magistrate Judge Eddy’s Report and Recommendation on the issue of whether certain statutory bad faith defendants were insurers subject to the bad faith statute. The case was voluntarily dismissed the same day the R&R was issued, and it was never reviewed by the District Court.

Two sets of the defendants moved to dismiss the bad faith claim on the basis they were not insurers. Magistrate Judge Eddy observed that insurers are entities that issue policies, collect premiums, or agree to accept others’ liability in exchange for consideration. Further, insurers are also defined “as the underwriter or insurance company with whom a contract of insurance is made.”

The plaintiffs alleged that the moving defendants were brokers or insurance agents. They argued, however, that the moving defendants were “insurers of some form,” because these defendants “failed to make reasonable efforts to identify the policies of insurance and account for the premium payments made by Plaintiffs to Defendants….” Specifically, plaintiffs alleged these agents or brokers became insurers by telling the insured the claim could not be submitted to insurance, by denying aid to plaintiffs, by unreasonably failing to identify plaintiffs’ insurance policies, and by failing to account for premiums.

The reality was that the defendants at most sold the plaintiffs insurance as agents or brokers. “An entity that only sells an insurance policy is not an insurer pursuant to the statute.” There are no allegations “that these entities collected their insurance premiums in exchange for assuming the risks associated with the policy.” Further, there were no allegations these defendants were underwriters or insurers, but all allegations and documents indicated they were brokers or agents.

Thus, Magistrate Judge Eddy recommended the motion to dismiss be granted. As stated above, the case was dismissed that same day and thus the issue was never finally resolved by the District Court.

Date of Decision: March 5, 2020

McKinney v. Boser, U.S. District Court Western District of Pennsylvania 2:19-CV-00771, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39001 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 5, 2020) (Eddy, M.J.) (Report and Recommendation)

COURT UPHOLDS DISMISSAL OF DRAGONETTI ACTION AGAINST INSURED (Superior Court of Pennsylvania) (Non-Precedential)

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The insured’s representatives sued the insured’s carrier and its claims adjuster for bad faith. The complaint alleged bad faith in claims handling and in refusing to defend the insured.

The claims adjuster, though the carrier, brought a Dragonetti action against the insured’s representative and her counsel for bringing the bad faith claim against the adjuster. The court described it as a wrongful use of civil proceedings claim. The trial court dismissed the wrongful use claim on preliminary objections, and the matter was on appeal in the Superior Court.

First, the appellate court found that the insurer/adjuster waived all issues on appeal regarding dismissal of the Dragonetti action.

Next, even if not waived, the Superior Court ruled dismissal was proper.

The trial court found that because the allegations against the adjuster were based on the adjuster’s conduct as a claims handler, and not as a private citizen, the wrongful use claim should be dismissed. The Superior Court agreed under these circumstances that “it was not unreasonable … to name the insurance claims adjuster who denied [the] claims for coverage.”

[Note: The court apparently was not faced with the issue that a statutory bad faith claim against an adjuster must be dismissed in the first instance because the bad faith statute does not apply to adjusters, only insurers themselves. For example, see Judge Savage’s opinion in Reto, Judge Nealon’s opinion in Fertig, Judge Surrick’s opinion in Kofsky, and Judge Bartle’s decision in the 2013 Feingold case.]

Date of Decision: February 28, 2020

Philadelphia Contributionship Ins. Co. v. Kiely, Superior Court of Pennsylvania No. 3111 EDA 2018, 2020 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 725 (Pa. Super. Ct. Feb. 28, 2020) (Colins, Panella, Strassburger, JJ.)

AUGUST 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: POLICY VOIDED BY JURY ON BASIS OF FRAUDULENT APPLICATION, AND DAMAGES AWARDED TO INSURER (Pennsylvania Superior Court) (Non-precendential)

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The insured sued based on a denial of benefits for a vandalism loss. During the course of pre-suit examinations under oath, the insurer concluded that the policy was obtained by fraud. Thus, in addition to denying the claim, the insurer counterclaimed for common law fraud, breach of contract, statutory insurance fraud and reverse bad faith, based on a false insurance application. The jury ruled for the insurer and voided the policy.

The court awarded damages of over $285,000 to the insurer for claims paid and claim expenses incurred under the now voided policy, subject to a reduction for the return of premiums paid. Post-trial motions were denied, and the verdict was affirmed on appeal.

In upholding the verdict, the Superior Court recognized that fraud required the highest standard of proof known in a civil setting. The jury did not err, however, in finding the standard met. The appellate court found “the record is replete with evidence that [the insured], through an agent, knowingly provided … false, misleading and incomplete information in his insurance application statement.”

The court stated the insured had misrepresented his loss history, failed to disclose a foreclosure complaint, failed to disclose tax judgments against him and failed to reveal “he incurred a federal conviction in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for filing false corporate tax returns.”

The court also rejected arguments concerning the trial court’s evidentiary rulings. There was no error in allowing evidence relating to a prior conviction for underpaying corporate taxes, and previous tax liens. Nor was there error in allowing testimony from an underwriter to describe underwriting practices during the relevant time period.

Date of Decision: August 15, 2018

Smith v. United States Liability Insurance Company, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, No. 1287 EDA 2017, 2018 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2968 (Pa. Super. Ct. Aug. 15, 2018) (Lazarus, Panella, Strassburger, JJ.) (Not precendential)

 

AUGUST 2018 BAD FAITH CASES: BAD FAITH ACTION CANNOT BE BROUGHT AGAINST CLAIM REPRESENTATIVE WHO IS NOT AN INSURER (Philadelphia Federal)

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A UIM insured brought a breach of contract, loss of consortium, and bad faith action against both the claim representative and the insurer. The insurer argued that the claim representative was “fraudulently joined” to defeat diversity. The insurer asserted that bad faith actions against claim representatives are impermissible.

The court noted that the “removing party has a heavy burden of persuading a court that joinder is fraudulent.” However, “[t]he claims against [the claim representative] are wholly insubstantial and frivolous.” The court concluded as a matter of law “there is no basis to support a contract” against the claim representative because “only the principal, [insurer], may be held liable.” The claim representative was only an agent, who did not have a separate contract with the insured.

Further, the court concluded the insured could not state a bad faith claim against a claim representative. “The bad faith statute applies only to insurance companies.” The claim representative was not an insurer because she identified as an insurer in the policy, and the insured did not plead that claim representative acted as an insurer.

Thus, the court concluded the insured improperly joined the claim representative.

Date of Decision: August 8, 2018

Reto v. Liberty Mutual Insurance, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania, CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-2483, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133336 (E.D. Pa. Aug., 8, 2018) (Savage, J.)

OCTOBER 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: BAD FAITH STATUTE DOES NOT APPLY TO INSURANCE AGENTS (Common Pleas Lackawanna County)

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The excellent Tort Talk Blog has posted an opinion from Judge Nealon in Lackawanna County reiterating that the bad faith statute does not apply to insurance agents.

APRIL 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: ON REMAND TRIAL COURT MUST REVIEW POTENTIAL BAD FAITH CLAIMS FOR: (1) DENIAL OF COVERAGE, (2) INDEPENDENT CLAIMS HANDLING ALLEGATIONS, (3) PLEADING DEFENSES IN BAD FAITH, AND (4) DENIAL OF DUTY TO DEFEND (Pennsylvania Superior Court)

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In this case, among other things, the Superior Court stated the principle that statutory bad faith can exist independently of the insurer’s denying a benefit under the policy. The Court relied upon its earlier decisions in Condio (2006) and Nealy (1997). It did not address what effect, if any, that the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Toy v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company had on those opinions, or to what extent Toy might limit the scope of cognizable claims for statutory bad faith to denial of benefits or conduct that is intertwined with a denial of benefits.

As to the particulars, this case involved title insurance. The insured believed she purchased two parcels, but the deed and title insurance policy only set out the legal description for one parcel. When she attempted to sell the properties years after her initial purchase, the potential buyer withdrew from the agreement and sued for damages because she had promised to convey both properties, but could not. She brought a third party action against the title insurer.

The Court found that the error in describing only one parcel in the original deed was in no way the insured’s fault. The insured alleged “that she … entered into a contract under which [the insurer] agreed to provide ‘real estate transactional services’ — including title searches and the drafting and filing of a deed — for her purchase of the property, and to issue a policy insuring title to the property.” The insured alleged that the title insurer was liable to her because the erroneous description on the deed and “in the Policy resulted from [the insurer’s] failure to conduct a proper title search and to provide a policy covering all of 4 Mill Street and the entire premises covered by her Agreement of Sale.”

In terms of insurance coverage, the Court looked at case law on reasonable expectations and estoppel. It cited numerous cases where mistakes in property descriptions could not be used to avoid coverage.

It also looked to general case law on reasonable expectations, where the insurer could not evade the consequences of promises or conduct of its own agents in leading the insured to believe that certain coverage was being provided. (The Court cited the seminal Tonkovic case. It also cited Pressley v. Travelers, 817 A.2d 1131 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2003), where the agent at issue had authority to bind the insurer as its agent, but apparently was the insured’s agent as well).

Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s finding that no coverage was due as a matter of law based on the policy language.

As to the bad faith claim, the finding of potential coverage undermined much of the insurer’s argument that it could not have acted in bad faith.

In addition, the court found there could be distinct claims for “claims handling conduct which occurred over a six month period before finally advising” that coverage was denied. This would need to be addressed on remand.

The Court further stated that the insured made bad faith allegations that the insurer improperly raised defenses alleging that the insured failed to cooperate and that the insured’s own actions, or that of her counsel, were the proximate cause of her own losses. The Court instructed the trial court to review these claims for bad faith on remand.

Finally, the Court remanded the bad faith claim on the insured’s argument that the insurer failed in its duty to defend the insured from the buyer’s claims for breach of the sales agreement.

Date of Decision: April 11, 2017

Michael v. Stock, No. 1229 EDA 2017, Pa. Super. LEXIS 245 (Pa. Super. Ct. Apr. 11, 2017) (Fitzgerald, Olson, Solano, JJ.)

JUNE 2016 BAD FAITH CASES: COMMUNICATIONS BETWEEN IN-HOUSE COUNSEL OF (1) TPA AND (2) AUHTORIZED CLAIM REPRESENTATIVE WITH INSURER USING THEIR SERVICES IS PRIVILEGED (Middle District)

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In Heller’s Gas v. International Insurance Company of Hannover, a breach of contract and bad faith case, the insured claimed that documents withheld or redacted did not fall within the attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine, or reserve information. The insured argued that all but one document was either sent to or from employees of the insurer’s third party administrator (TPA) or its authorized claim representative, and as neither of these entities were subsidiaries of or owned by the insurer, the communications were not privileged.

In the Answer, the insurer did not assert an agency relationship with either the TPA or the authorized claims representative. It took the opposite position in the motion papers, arguing that communications between the TPA’s in-house counsel and/or the claim representative’s in-house counsel with the insurer fell within the scope of attorney-client privilege.

The court reviewed the unredacted documents in camera. The court stated: “After thoroughly examining the documents, this Court finds that the information redacted appropriately falls within the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine and is consequently information directly related to or referencing legal strategy regarding the instant litigation. The correspondence further supports [the insurer’s] latterly-advanced argument that [the TPA and authorized claims representative] are essentially agents of [the insurer].”

Date of Decision: June 1, 2016

Heller’s Gas, Inc. v. Int’l Ins. Co. of Hannover Ltd., 4:15-CV-01350, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71069 (M.D. Pa. June 1, 2016) (Brann, J.)