Archive for the 'PA – Claims Handling (general)' Category

EMAILS BETWEEN CLAIMS ADJUSTER AND PLAINTIFF’S COUNSEL AFTER INSURER’S DEFENSE COUNSEL’S INVOLVEMENT IS MADE KNOWN: IT’S BEST NOT TO DO THAT, EVEN IF ADJUSTER INITIATES THE CONTACT (Middle District)

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This UIM breach of contract and bad faith case involved an alleged ex parte contact with the carrier’s claims adjuster, after defense counsel had communicated a letter of representation to the insured’s counsel. Three months later after that representation letter, there were direct communications, via email exchanges, between plaintiff’s counsel and the claims adjuster. They discussed the plaintiff’s demands and claims handling events. The carrier brought a motion for a protective order to preclude use of these emails in the case, because of the allegedly impermissible ex parte contacts with a represented person.

The email initiating the communications came from the adjuster to plaintiff’s counsel. The carrier took the position this was inadvertent, asserting the adjuster actually intended the email for her own defense counsel. The court observed it was unclear whether the communication was inadvertent. In any event, the court found whether intended or inadvertent, the result is the same.

The court generally observed that the prudent course would have been for plaintiff’s counsel to communicate with defense counsel regarding the adjuster’s very first email, rather than responding to the adjuster. This clearly would have avoided the ensuing issues.

The court analyzed the contact under Rule of Professional Conduct 4.2, governing direct contacts with represented persons. It concluded the rule was not violated. There was no intent to create an unfair advantage or indicia of dishonest intent. Further, the court observed defense counsel did not make an issue of the email exchange for a year, in demanding that it not be disseminated by plaintiff’s counsel, e.g., to plaintiff’s expert.

However, though there was no rule violation, some remedial measures were warranted. Thus, the court precluded any information obtained from the adjuster via these emails, that could bind the carrier.

The court did deny a request for attorney’s fees on the motion. The communications were limited, and the conduct did not rise to the level of egregiousness that would call for an attorney’s fee award.

Date of Decision: July 17, 2019

Golden v. Brethren Mutual Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania Civil No. 3:18-CV-02425, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118519, 2019 WL 3216629 (M.D. Pa. July 17, 2019) (Saporito, M.J.)

 

BAD FAITH STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS NOT TOLLED, OR RENEWED, BY CHANGE IN THE LAW ON COVERAGE; NO PLAUSIBLE CLAIM PLEADED; BAD FAITH POSSIBLE EVEN IF BENEFIT NOT DUE (Philadelphia Federal)

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This UIM case was stimulated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent decision reversing precedent on the household vehicle exclusion. In dismissing the bad faith claim, the court found:

  1. The two-year statute of limitations was not tolled by a change in the law.

  2. The change in the law, which resulted in the insured renewing her demand for coverage, did not re-start the statute of limitations.

  3. Alternatively, the insured failed to plead sufficient facts to set forth a plausible bad faith claim; rather she only made a few conclusory allegations.

The court did have a significant footnote, which addresses the long-standing debate over whether there can be statutory bad faith where no coverage is due. Judge Pappert clearly comes down on the side that bad faith can still exist, noting that “a claim for bad faith pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. § 8371 is a separate and distinct cause of action and is not contingent on the resolution of the underlying contract claim. … Thus, if bad faith is asserted as to conduct beyond a denial of coverage, the bad faith claim is actionable as to that conduct regardless of whether the contract claim survives.” As we have noted before on this blog, other courts dispute this view.

Date of Decision: July 3, 2019

O’Brien v. GEICO Employees Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-01920, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 110914 (E.D. Pa. July 3, 2019) (Pappert, J.)

TWO NON-PRECEDENTIAL BAD FAITH OPINIONS FROM PENNSYLVANIA’S SUPERIOR COURT: (1) INSUREDS’ CONDUCT AND STATE OF MIND ARE NOT WHAT DETERMINES AN INSURER’S BAD FAITH, RATHER IT IS THE INSURER’S OWN CONDUCT; (2) BAD FAITH PLEADING INADEQUATE

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In Wilson v. Erie Insurance Group, the Superior Court reversed the entry of a judgment for non pros on a bad faith claim which had been in suit for 16 years.

Among other points, the appellate court observed that the focus in bad faith cases is the insurer’s conduct and state of mind, not the insured’s. Thus, the Court observed:

[B]ad faith applies to “those actions an insurer took when called upon to perform its contractual obligations of defense and indemnification or payment of a loss that failed to satisfy the duty of good faith and fair dealing implied in the parties’ insurance contract.” In order to prove bad faith, a plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the insurer did not have a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy, and knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis in denying the claim. … Thus, the insured’s argue, a bad faith action turns on the reasonableness of the conduct of the insurer, not the insured. …

Similarly, although the [insureds] could not remember the timing of … settlement offers, and the amount of those offers, it did not impair [the insurer’s] ability to defend the case. All of that information is documented in [the insurer’s] files or, in some cases, admitted in the pleadings. The fact that the [the insureds] could not remember if they had any expectations in terms of settlement was of no consequence as their expectations are irrelevant in this bad faith case. See Rhodes v. USAA Casualty Ins. Co., 2011 PA Super 105, 21 A.3d 1253 (Pa.Super. 2011) (holding expectations of the insureds are not material to bad faith liability). It is difficult to imagine how [the insurer] was substantially impaired in its ability to present a defense by the [the insureds’] inability to recall these details. Moreover, if [the insurer] genuinely required that information, it would not have waited until 2018 to take the depositions.

Date of Decision: May 13, 2019

Wilson v. Erie Insurance Group & Erie Insurance Exchange, Superior Court of Pennsylvania No. 717 WDA 2018, 2019 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1867 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 13, 2019) (Bowes, Shogan, Strassburger, JJ.)

In Feingold v. State Farm, the Superior Court dealt with an unusual set of procedural circumstances, but we only focus on its discussion of bad faith pleading standards. The court states:

An insured has a cause of action “if the court finds that the insurer has acted in bad faith toward the insured[.]” 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371. To prove a bad faith claim, the insured must present clear and convincing evidence that (1) the insurer did not have a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy, and (2) the insurer knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis in denying the claim. …

Based on our review of his complaint, [plaintiff-assignee] failed to allege either requisite element. First, [plaintiff-assignee] averred that after the UIM arbitration award, [the insurer] informed him that it did not believe the [the insureds] were entitled to UIM damages under their policy. [The] complaint did not allege that [the insurer] was without a reasonable basis for denying benefits. Second, [plaintiff-assignee] averred only that [the insurer] did not advise him of a specific reason for denying the … UIM claims. This is not sufficient to demonstrate that [the insurer] knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of a reasonable basis for denying the claim. Accordingly, we find no abuse of discretion or error in the trial court’s determination that the bad faith claim was frivolous.

Date of Decision: May 17, 2018

Feingold v. State Farm Insurance Co., Superior Court of Pennsylvania No. 2340 EDA 2018, No. 2833 EDA 2018, 2019 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1931 (Pa. Super. Ct. May 17, 2019) (Kunselman, Murray, Pelligrinia, JJ.)

AN INSURED MUST PLEAD SOME SPECIFIC DETAILS RAISING CONDUCT TO THE LEVEL OF BAD FAITH TO SURVIVE A MOTION TO DISMISS, AND NOT SIMPLY THAT A CLAIM WAS DENIED OR A DEMAND REJECTED (Philadelphia Federal)

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This was the insureds’ second chance at pleading bad faith, after having their original UIM bad faith counterclaim dismissed without prejudice. The earlier post summarizing the first dismissal can be found here.

The second try fared no better. Rather, review of the second amended counterclaim made “clear that any further attempt at amendment would be futile because Defendants cannot plead their bad faith claim with adequate factual support and specificity.”

Once again, the court observed that: “A bad faith claim is ‘fact specific’ and depends upon the insure[r]’s conduct in connection with handling and evaluating a specific claim.” … As the party bringing the bad faith claim under 42 PA. C.S. § 8371, it is [the insured’s] burden to “‘describe who, what, where, when, and how the alleged bad faith conduct occurred.’”

The insureds’ two new paragraphs, set forth below, were deemed conclusory:

  1. Specifically, Insurance Company has taken [the insured’s] testimony and has been provided all of her documentation, which clearly demonstrates that she was covered under the applicable insurance policy and that her damages are far in excess of the UIM coverage amount.

  2. However, despite objective and subjective knowledge that [the insured] was covered under the applicable insurance policy and that her damages are far in excess of the UIM coverage amount, Insurance Company refused to honor their obligations under the insurance agreement for the bad faith purpose of seeking to evade their obligations to the Das family under the insurance contract.

The court observed that these paragraphs lacked “’the dates of any actions’ taken regarding the policy to support their allegation of unreasonable delay, nor have [the insureds] explained, in detail, ‘what was unfair’ about Plaintiff’s interpretation of the policy provisions.”

The court added:

Absent specific details that establish a dishonest purpose, it is not bad faith for an insurer to investigate and protect its interests during litigation. Jung v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 949 F. Supp. 353, 360 (E.D. Pa.1997) (finding that insurer “had a reasonable basis to investigate and deny the claim.”). Moreover, the failure of an insurance company “to immediately accede to a demand for the policy limit” is not, without specific facts, enough to establish bad faith. Smith, 506 F. App’x at 137. [The insureds’] inclusion of two conclusory paragraphs to the Second Amended Counterclaim does not alter that conclusion.

The inability to plead bad faith also required dismissing the punitive damages claim with prejudice as well.

Date of Decision: May 8, 2019

Amica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Das, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-1613, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78320 (E.D. Pa. May 8, 2019) (Jones, II, J.)

COURT (1) DISMISSES BAD FAITH CLAIM THAT DOES NOT ALLEGE FACTS SHOWING “HOW” THE PUTATIVE BAD FAITH OCCURRED, AND (2) OBSERVES THE INSURED FILED SUIT, WITHOUT NEGOTIATING OR COMMUNICATING WITH THE INSURER, AFTER THE INSURER MADE AN INITIAL OFFER ONLY ONE MONTH PRIOR TO SUIT (Philadelphia Federal)

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We first note that Eastern District Judge Kearney typically writes informative introductions as guides to his opinions, with summaries of the salient conclusions. We quote his introduction to this UIM bad faith case at length (in addition to summarizing the opinion):

“A car insurer’s verbal offer to pay approximately half of its insured’s alleged medical bills as underinsured motorist benefits may allow the insured to sue for breach of the insurance contract. But the verbal offer does not automatically equal bad faith under Pennsylvania’s insurance statutes. The insured must plead much more than her insurer did not offer her all she requested. The insured deciding to sue the insurer for statutory bad faith a month after the verbal offer instead of responding to the offer, opening discussions, or negotiating the import of submitted medical data may sue to obtain negotiating leverage. The tactic must include a complaint with specific facts or we will summarily dismiss this bad faith claim supported by conclusions rather than facts. Absent pleading more than a breach of contract, we today grant the insurer’s partial motion to dismiss the insured’s bad faith and punitive damages claims.”

The insured settled with the other driver, and submitted her medical bills to the insurer, seeking UIM coverage. The medical bills were approximately $14,000 and the insurer offered $7,000 in UIM benefits on February 7, 2019. Less than one month later, the insured sued for breach of contract and statutory bad faith.

Judge Kearney applied the Third Circuit’s decision in Smith v. State Farm in coming to his decision. Smith emphasizes that bad faith cases are fact specific, and must look at the insurer’s conduct vis-à-vis the insured for the matter at issue. Conclusory statements unsupported by factual allegations cannot survive a motion to dismiss.

First, Judge Kearney found the following allegations conclusory:

“[i]) failed to investigate and evaluate her claim in an objective and fair manner,

[ii] used invasive and improper investigative tactics,

[iii] engaged in dilatory claim’s handling,

[iv] failed to promptly offer payment,

[v] failed to provide contracted-for insurance coverage

[vi] subordinated her interest to its financial interest,

[vii] violated its fiduciary duty owed to her,

[viii] compelled her to sue,

[ix] caused her to spend money on litigation and endure anxiety associated with litigation.”

Beyond these patently conclusory allegations, the court further found that the following allegations, while somewhat more specific, still lacked any factual support, and were thus likewise conclusory:

  1. The insurer “acted in bad faith when it played a ‘cat and mouse’ game with her, [and] offered $7,000 on February 7, 2019 though it knew the amount did not ‘cover lawfully recoverable medical bills….” On this point, the court states asserted that the insurer “played a ‘cat and mouse’ game, caused her to spend money on litigation, or caused her anxiety associated with litigation does not plead … bad faith.”

  2. The insurer “failed to provide her with a calculation or summary of how it determined its offer.”

  3. The insurer “’ignored or acted with reckless indifference’ to the medical documents establishing her injuries and entitlement to underinsured motorist benefits.” However, Judge Kearney found the insured “alleges no facts showing how [the insurer] ignored or acted with reckless indifference to reviewing her medical records. To the contrary, [the] $7,000 verbal offer in February 2019 suggests it did review her medical records.”

  4. The insurer “did not have a doctor examine her immediately, [and therefore] it lacked refuting ‘medical evidence or documentation’ and refused to pay benefits without justification.”

The court found the complaint flawed for failing to allege how the insurer “failed to investigate and evaluate her claim in an objective and fair manner, subordinated her interest to its own, or violated its fiduciary duty owed to her.” Further, the insured did “not plead her communications with [the insurer] or [the insurer’s] conduct even though a claim for bad faith is based on [the insurer’s] conduct in handling her claim.” This included that she did “not plead calls or communications since the February 7, 2019 verbal offer of $7,000.”

The court also was concerned with contradictions in the pleadings. It noted the complaint alleged both that the insurer failed to promptly make a settlement offer and that the insurer offered the $7,000 one month after she submitted her medical records to the insurer. The court found these allegations contradictory.

The bad faith count was dismissed without prejudice for failing to allege facts supporting a plausible claim.

Finally, the court dismissed the punitive damages claim, again without prejudice, because the bad faith claim was dismissed. Judge Kearney found that a simple breach of contract, the only claim remaining, cannot be the basis for punitive damages.

Date of Decision: April 22, 2019

Hwang v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 19-927, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 67955, 2019 WL 1765938 (E.D. Pa. April 22, 2019) (Kearney, J.)

BAD FAITH CLAIM DISMISSED FOR PLEADING CONCLUSORY ALLEGATIONS, BUT COURT PROVIDES AN EXAMPLE ON HOW TO PROPERLY PLEAD (Philadelphia Federal)

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This case involves another example of pleading conclusory allegations, without alleging sufficient facts to support a plausible bad faith claim. In addition to pleading solely conclusory allegations, listed below, the complaint does not set forth the nature of the property damage at issue or what caused that damage.

Among other applicable legal principles, the court observed that “[b]ecause bad faith claims are fact-specific, to survive a motion to dismiss ‘a plaintiff must plead specific facts as evidence of bad faith and cannot rely on conclusory statements.’ …. To that end, ‘[a] plaintiff cannot merely say that an insurer acted unfairly, but instead must describe with specificity what was unfair.’”

In describing the conclusory nature of the claims at issue in this case, the court gave an example of a failed allegation, which flaws applied across the board.

“Plaintiffs allege that Defendant failed to promptly and thoroughly investigate their claim before making a determination that the claim was not covered under the Policy. … Yet the Complaint is devoid of allegations as to (1) the timing of the alleged investigation in relation to when Plaintiffs submitted their claim, (2) the methods and procedures by which the investigation was conducted, and (3) the length of the investigation from start to finish. As such, Plaintiffs’ claim that Defendant’s investigation of their insurance claim was not ‘prompt’ or ‘thorough’ lacks plausibility. The same can be said with respect to each of Plaintiffs’ ‘specific’ allegations of Defendant’s bad faith conduct.”

The court did give the insured leave to amend. Thus, the foregoing example on how to support a bad faith claim with sufficient detail provides guidance on pleading an acceptable non-conclusory bad faith claim in any amended complaint, as well as an admonition against bare bones pleading.

Date of Decision: April 17, 2019

MBMJ Props., LLC v. Millville Mutual Insurance Co., U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-5071, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 65251 (E.D. Pa. April 17, 2019) (Slomsky, J.)

The court found the following to be inadequately pleaded conclusory allegations of bad faith:

  1. by sending correspondence falsely representing that Plaintiff’s loss caused by a peril insured against under the Policy was not entitled to benefits due and owing under the Policy;

  2. in failing to complete a prompt and thorough investigation of Plaintiff’s claim before representing that such claim is not covered under the Policy;

  3. in failing to pay Plaintiff’s covered loss in a prompt and timely manner;

  4. in failing to objectively and fairly evaluate Plaintiff’s claim;

  5. in conducting an unfair and unreasonable investigation of Plaintiff’s claim;

  6. in asserting Policy defenses without a reasonable basis in fact;

  7. in flatly misrepresenting pertinent facts or policy provisions relating to coverages at issue and placing unduly restrictive interpretations on the Policy and/or claim forms;

  8. in failing to keep Plaintiff or its representative fairly and adequately advised as to the status of the claim;

  9. in unreasonably valuing the loss and failing to fairly negotiate the amount of the loss with Plaintiff or their representatives;

  10. in failing to promptly provide a reasonable factual explanation of the basis for the denial of Plaintiff’s claim;

  11. in unreasonably withholding policy benefits;

  12. in acting unreasonably and unfairly in response to Plaintiff’s claim;

  13. in unnecessarily and unreasonably compelling Plaintiff to institute this lawsuit to obtain policy benefits for a covered loss, that Defendant should have paid promptly and without the necessity of litigation.

BAD FAITH INADEQUATELY PLEADED: (1) NO BAD FAITH SOLELY BECAUSE THIRD PARTY UIM CLAIMS WERE NOT PAID WHILE FIRST PARTY BENEFITS WERE PAID; (2) TIME GAP BETWEEN DEMAND AND OFFER ALONE DOES NOT SUPPORT BAD FAITH; (3) ABSENCE OF COMMUNICATIONS WITHOUT ALLEGING EXPLANATION WAS SOUGHT BY THE INSURED NOT BAD FAITH; AND (4) WIDE DIFFERENCE IN VALUE BETWEEN DEMAND VALUE AND AN INSURER’S LOWER VALUATION ALONE IS NOT BAD FAITH ABSENT ADDITIONAL ALLEGATIONS OFFER WAS UNREASONABLE AND MADE IN BAD FAITH (Middle District)

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In this UIM bad faith case, the court dismissed the bad faith count, but sua sponte allowed the insured to file an amended complaint. In setting out general bad faith law, among other things, the court observed that “[f]ailing to plead explanations or descriptions of what an insurer actually did, or why they did it, is fatal to a bad faith claim.”

In carrying out its analysis of whether the complaint could survive a motion to dismiss, the court first identified conclusory allegations that need not be considered in determining the issue. The court then took a close look at the complaint’s actual factual allegations to determine whether those allegations could support an actionable bad faith claim.

Paying first party medical benefits while not paying third party UIM claims is not in itself bad faith.

First, the court observed that an insurer’s paying first party medical benefits “without indicating any dispute regarding the causal relationship between the accident and Plaintiff’s medical bills or income loss,” while denying third party UIM benefits is insufficient, in itself, to make out a bad faith claim. Bad faith must go beyond “a mere inconsistency” in handling these two categories of claims.

A time gap between the insured’s demand and the insurer’s offer of payment alone is not sufficient to make out bad faith.

Second, the court rejected the argument that a seven month time period between here policy limit demand and the insurer’s offer in response does not by itself constitute bad faith “if the insurer had a reasonable basis for the delay.” Here, the plaintiff failed to allege “any facts indicating that Defendant’s delay of nearly seven months did not have a reasonable basis” and the mere calculation of time between demand and offer is not sufficient to make out a bad faith claim.

Alleging a bad faith failure to communicate requires pleading actual efforts to communicate to which the insurer failed to respond in good faith.

Third, if plaintiff wanted to plead failure to communicate as a basis for her bad faith claim, she needed to allege “specific facts regarding the plaintiffs’ unsuccessful attempts to elicit such information from the defendant insurers.” The complaint does not identify any communications attempting to get an explanation from the insurer about the basis for its offer (which was over $800,000 lower than the policy limits demand). Allegations that the insurer failed to support its offer with medical evidence or expert reports did not support the argument of an unreasonable failure to communicate with the insured.

Identifying difference between demand and offer alone cannot be the basis for bad faith, absent allegations that the insurer acted unreasonably and in bad faith in making the lower offer.

Fourth, the insured argued that the large difference between her $1,000,000 demand (which she further averred was lower than her actual damages), and the insurer’s $107,012 offer was alone sufficient to sustain a bad faith claim. The court likewise rejected this argument. A low but reasonable estimate will not be treated as bad faith, and the insured did not allege “facts from which a factfinder could plausibly conclude that Defendant’s offer was unreasonable and made in bad faith … rather than made as part of the ordinary course of negotiations between insurers and insureds.” Judge Kane cites Judge Caputo’s recent Clarke decision to support this conclusion.

She also cited Judge Caputo’s recent Moran decision for the proposition that even a facially unreasonable offer, without more pleaded, may not constitute bad faith, because “[e]ven if an offer is facially unreasonable, it must also be shown to have been made in bad faith.” The complaint must sufficiently allege conduct supporting the unreasonable offer was made in bad faith, rather than the result of a negligent failure to investigate and evaluate the claim.

Summaries of Clarke and Moran can be found here.

Date of Decision: March 26, 2019

Rosenthal v. Am. States Ins. Co., U. S. District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania No. 1:18-cv-01755, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50485, 2019 WL 1354141 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 26, 2019) (Kane, J.)

1. SUPREME COURT GRANTS APPEAL IN BERG V. NATIONWIDE, ASSURING THIS EXTRAORDINARY BAD FAITH CASE WILL GO INTO ITS THIRD DECADE. 2. UPDATE ON UIM BAD FAITH SEVERANCE AND STAY CASE LAW.

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After 20 Years, Berg v. Nationwide is Headed to the Supreme Court.

We once again note that the Supreme Court has granted an appeal in the long running Berg v. Nationwide bad faith litigation.  Our original post can be found here.

The Court’s Order focuses the appellate issues on the Superior Court’s review of the trial judge’s evidentiary findings and mindset, as well the issue of whether the insurer assumed a specific additional responsibility under its duty of good faith and fair dealing.

There is always the possibility, however, that the Court could go beyond the proper scope of appellate review or the potential specific duty assumed, and into more fundamental issues of what constitutes bad faith.

UIM/Bad Faith Severance and Stay Granted.

The excellent Tort Talk Blog, authored by Attorney Daniel Cummins, continues to be the leading resource on severance/bifurcation and stay issues in post-Koken UIM/UM litigation. The most recent post summarizes a Pike County opinion granting a motion to sever and stay, and can be found here.

SUPREME COURT ACCEPTS APPEAL IN BERG V. NATIONWIDE ON WHETHER SUPERIOR COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN REWEIGHING EVIDENCE (Pennsylvania Supreme Court)

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Of the thousands of statutory bad faith cases since section 8371’s creation, Berg v. Nationwide stands at the top of the list. The case started in 1998. One of the plaintiffs has since passed away. In 2014, Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey K. Sprecher awarded plaintiffs bad faith damages of $21,000,000. In 2018, the Superior Court reversed that $21,000,000 judgment.

This past Friday (March 29, 2019), the Supreme Court made known that the litigation will go into its third decade when it granted an appeal from that Superior Court decision, on the following three issues:

  1. [D]oes an appellate court abuse its discretion by reweighing and disregarding clear and convincing evidence introduced in the trial court upon which the trial court relied to enter a finding of insurance bad faith?

  2. [D]id the Superior Court abuse its discretion by reweighing and disregarding clear and competent evidence upon which the trial court relied to support its finding of insurance bad faith [pursuant to the standard set forth in Rancosky v. Washington Nat’l Ins Co., 170 A.3d 364 (Pa. 2017)]?

  3. Does an insurer that elects under an insurance contract to repair collision damage to a motor vehicle, rather than pay the insured the fair value of the loss directly, have a duty to return the motor vehicle to its insured in a safe and serviceable condition pursuant to national insurance standards, and pursuant to its duty of good faith and fair dealing?

The Order granting the petition on these three issues can be found here, in Berg v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., No. 569 MAL 2018 (Pa. Mar. 29, 2019).

A summary of the Superior Court’s 2018 decision is posted here, and amendment thereto is posted here.

A summary of Judge Sprecher’s 2014 trial court decision awarding $21,000,000 can be found here.

Judge Sprecher’s ruling followed an earlier 2012 Superior Court decision in Berg, summarized here. This 2012 opinion has proven influential. A quick Lexis search shows it being cited 70 times.

STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIMS REQUIRE DENIAL OF A BENEFIT, AND THERE IS NO CAUSE OF ACTION SOLELY FOR POOR CLAIMS HANDLING ABSENT A DENIAL (Philadelphia Federal)

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This is one of the few cases directly to take on the issue of whether statutory bad faith can exist where the insurer has not denied a benefit.

As observed numerous times in this Blog over the years, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Toy v. Metropolitan decision requires the denial of a benefit as a predicate for making a statutory bad faith claim. Yet, numerous courts have repeated language from older case law that bad faith might exist outside of that context, e.g., solely for poor claims handling or failures to communicate. These courts have not directly addressed the argument that Toy rejected this concept, and that such conduct may be evidence of bad faith, but not bad faith in itself where no benefit is denied. [There is little dispute that a delay in paying a benefit due may be deemed a denial of a benefit, so it is assumed in the foregoing discussion that there has been no delay that could constitute a statutory denial.]

In this case, the insured argued “that § 8371 does not require a denial of benefits in order to state a cause of action and contends that [the insurer’s] investigative practices and faulty conclusions based on egregious investigative inaction provide a cause of action under § 8371.”

In rejecting this position, Judge DuBois states:

The Court concludes plaintiff misstates the law. Plaintiff relies exclusively on O’Donnell ex rel. Mitro v. Allstate Ins. Co, which states that “[S]ection 8371 is not restricted to an insurer’s bad faith in denying a claim. An action for bad faith may also extend to the insurer’s investigative practices.” 1999 PA Super 161, 734 A.2d 901, 904 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1999). As the Third Circuit subsequently explained, O’Donnell merely clarified that “the alleged bad faith need not be limited to the literal act of denying a claim.” UPMC Health Sys. v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 506 (3d Cir. 2004). However, “the essence of a bad faith claim must be the unreasonable and intentional (or reckless) denial of benefits.” Id.; see also Duda v. Standard Ins. Co., No. 12-1082, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56606, 2015 WL 1961170, at *26 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 30, 2015), aff’d, 649 F. App’x 230 (3d Cir. 2016) (“Pennsylvania law makes clear that claim denial is essential to a bad faith claim.” (internal citations omitted)). Thus, plaintiff must allege the denial of benefits to state a claim under § 8371.”

The insured attempted to argue that benefit denial includes failure to provide fair and reasonable treatment after submitting a claim, the insurance company’s failing to stand behind the insured in his time of need, and failing to pursue deductibles from the party at fault. Again rejecting these arguments, Judge DuBois found that:

Even assuming that the bad faith denial of the benefits claimed by plaintiff was properly alleged in the Complaint, plaintiff’s argument fails because plaintiff does not allege the denial of any benefits within the meaning of the statute. “‘[B]ad faith’ as it concern[s] allegations made by an insured against his insurer ha[s] acquired a particular meaning in the law.” Toy v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 593 Pa. 20, 928 A.2d 186, 199 (Pa. 2007). Courts in Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit have consistently held that “[a] plaintiff bringing a claim under [§ 8371] must demonstrate that an insurer has acted in bad faith toward the insured through ‘any frivolous or unfounded refusal to pay proceeds of a policy.'” Wise v. Am. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 459 F.3d 443, 452 (3d Cir. 2006) (emphasis added); see also Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Babayan, 430 F.3d 121, 137 (3d Cir. 2005); Toy, 593 Pa. at 41. None of the “benefits” that defendant allegedly denied plaintiff concern the refusal to pay proceeds under an insurance policy.  To the contrary, plaintiff concedes that he “does not allege bad faith for refusal to pay benefits.”

Date of Decision: January 23, 2019

Buck v. Geico Advantage Insurance Company, U. S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 18-5148, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11968 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 23, 2019) (DuBois, J.)

By contrast, e.g., this 2018 case finds statutory bad faith may still exist even when no coverage is due, meaning the court believed there could be bad faith even if no benefit was withheld or even due.