DECEMBER 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: APPLYING NEW YORK LAW OR PENNSYLVANIA LAW, MISTAKE DID NOT CONSTITUTE BAD FAITH (Philadelphia Federal)

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The tortfeasor struck the insured as he was riding his bicycle. USAA insured the tortfeasor under a policy containing a liability limit of $15,000. The insured held policies with Progressive (providing for $50,000 in UIM benefits) and State Farm (providing for $100,000 in UIM coverage). USAA tendered its policy limits to the insured in an attempt to settle the claim, which the insured accepted. The insured requested consent with Progressive to settle the claim, and while the insured’s attorney contacted State Farm to notify it of the claim, there was no mention made of the settlement offer. A second correspondence to State Farm also failed to notify it of the settlement.

The State Farm policy contained language denying coverage if the insured settles any lawsuit “without our written consent.” State Farm denied coverage because it believed that the USAA policy provided benefits “equal to or exceeding” the benefits provided under the State Farm policy. This mistake “occurred after [the insured] had extinguished State Farm’s right of subrogation, and nothing [the insured] did was the result of State Farm’s initial mistake.” State Farm acknowledged its claim handling mistake, but then denied UIM coverage because the insured “never [gave] notice and sought consent to accept USAA’s tender of liability limits available under the [tortfeasor’s] policy.”

The insured sued for bad faith, and State Farm moved for summary judgment. The court previously decided that New York law controls. The court ruled that the insureds failed to show that (1) the USAA settlement did not prejudice State Farm’s subrogation rights; and (2) State Farm did not waive the insured’s obligation to provide it with advance notice of settlement of the claim.

As to the bad faith claim, the Court held that “State Farm had a valid basis for denying benefits under New York law.” The Court reasoned that State Farm’s initial claims handling error does not rise to the level of bad faith, because the error was not only corrected, but it was “not causally related to the legitimate basis on which it denied the [UIM] claim.” The Court further held that even if Pennsylvania law controlled, nothing in this case would be sufficient to support a bad faith claim. The Court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment.

Date of Decision: November 30, 2017

Bennett v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., CIVIL ACTION NO. 15-5170, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 197515 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 30, 2017) (McHugh, J.)

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