AUGUST 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: NO BAD FAITH WHERE THE INSURED OBFUSCATED THE CLAIMS HANDLING PROCESS AND REFUSED TO COOPERATE WITH INSURER (Philadelphia Federal)

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This 95-page opinion granting the insurer summary judgment provides an extremely detailed review of the facts, and considerable exposition of bad faith case law concerning investigation and claims handling.

As set forth in the Opinion, the insured owned multiple rental properties that she leased out to college students. Beginning in 2005, she purchased landlord property insurance policies from the insurer. In 2014, tenants moved into the properties and alerted township police to deplorable conditions. The police report catalogued broken windows, buckled hardwood floors, water damage, ceiling damage, removed and damaged fixtures and doors, detached ceiling lights and smoke alarms, peeling paint, an overgrown lawn, broken appliances, trash, and mice droppings. The tenants then broke their leases, citing a breach of the implied warranty of habitability.

A township code official inspected and photographed the properties and prepared a list of code violations. The official posted violation notices, and revoked the insured’s student rental licenses. The insured notified both the insurer and her insurance broker, and made a claim for the property damage and lost rent.

The insurer mistakenly filed the insured’s communication in a preexisting file related to another claim with the same insured. However, an employee of the insurance broker immediately called the insured to request more facts relevant to the claim. The insured did not pick up the call and did not return the voicemail.

The township later brought a code violation action against the insured in the Court of Common Pleas, as well as for the insured’s failure to allow mandated property inspections over several years. The insured then reached out to the insurer, and repeatedly claimed that her earlier communications went unanswered. The insured’s story changed, however, after the insurer produced evidence of phone calls and emails from claims adjusters. The insured conceded that she did in fact speak to someone, but she only “sort of” recalled the conversation.

Even after the rental license revocations, the insured again rented properties to two other college students. Similar physical problems arose, and the new tenants were likewise unable to reside at the properties. The township locked the insured out of the properties.

Throughout this period, the insurer’s claims handlers continually attempted to communicate with the insured to gather more facts concerning the insured’s claim. The insured received an email stating “‘it is imperative that I make voice to voice contact with you to get accurate loss facts regarding the claim that you submitted’ since ‘the claims process is reliant on the information that is shared between ‘you’ the insured and ‘me’ the claims adjuster.’” Several days after the insured received that email, the adjuster had a telephone call with the insured, but the insured said she could not speak with the adjuster due to ongoing litigation. The insured then hung up the phone.

The insurer took the position that the policy did not provide coverage for property damage, lost rents or the township’s suit against the insured.

The insured sued the insurer for breach of contract, bad faith, and alleged violations of Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”). The Court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, stating that the insurance policies were not “all risk” policies whereby coverage is automatically triggered in the event of loss. Furthermore, the insured failed to show that the losses occurred suddenly and accidentally, and the insured had no reasonable expectation of coverage. The court also found that the insurer had no duty to defend the insured in the state court action. Additionally, the court granted the insurer summary judgment on the UTPCPL claim, finding no fraud or misrepresentations to the insured with regard to the policies.

As to the bad faith claim, the insured alleged that the insurer intentionally delayed opening a claim, delayed commencing its investigation, and that it lacked a reasonable basis for refusing to pay the insured benefits under the policies. The Court found that there existed no clear and convincing evidence that the insurer acted in bad faith. The Court stated that “the record makes clear that [the insurer’s] delays are attributable to mistake, possible confusion between [the insurer] and [the broker,] and [the insured’s] obfuscation and refusal to cooperate with [the claims] representatives.” The Court further opined that the bad faith claim must fail because the evidence shows the insurer conducted an adequate investigation and had a reasonable basis for denying coverage. Any delays on the part of the insurer were attributable to the insured’s “repeated failures to provide the information necessary to open a claim….”

The Court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment in its entirety.

Date of Decision: April 6, 2017

Doherty v. Allstate Indem. Co., No. 15-05165, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 52795 (E.D. Pa. April 6, 2017) (Pappert, J.)

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