OCTOBER 2017 BAD FAITH CASES: RESOLUTION OF COVERAGE DISPUTE IN INSURER’S FAVOR LED TO DISMISSAL OF BAD FAITH CLAIM BASED ON SAME COVERAGE DISPUTE (Middle District)

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The insured’s property included a bulk liquid storage facility, and operated a propane gas distribution center containing six large liquid propane storage tanks. The policy included a variety of standard exclusions. Five months after the policy issued, the insured noticed sinkholes at the base of its propane tanks. The insured filed a property loss notice with the insurer, and retained an engineering firm to conduct a site inspection.

The engineering firm concluded that the sinkhole opened up after a period of excessive rainfall. The insurer began investigating the claim under a full reservation of its rights. It ultimately denied coverage pursuant to the policy’s “Cost of Excavation,” “Land and Water,” and “Earth Movement Exclusions”. However, the insurer invited the insured to submit further documentation that could alter its denial of coverage. After some back-and-forth, the insured ultimately brought suit for breach of contract and bad faith. The insurer moved for summary judgment on both claims.

The Court granted the insurer’s motion to dismiss the breach of contract claim for two reasons. First, the insured failed to meet its burden of establishing that the actual property covered under the policy was damaged. Second, the Court ruled that the policy’s flood exclusion precluded coverage. The flood exclusion excluded coverage for damaged caused by “surface water,” and the insured’s own engineering firm confirmed that rainfall/surface water contributed to the opening of the sinkholes.

As to the bad faith claim, the Court observed the heightened evidentiary standard “to provide evidence so clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable a clear conviction, without hesitation, about whether or not the [insurer] acted in bad faith.” The Court ruled that the undisputed facts showed that the insurer had a reasonable basis for its coverage denial, and that the insured failed to produce evidence that a reasonable jury could use to find bad faith by a clear and convincing standard.

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

Date of Decision: September 18, 2017

Heller’s Gas, Inc. v. International Insurance Co. of Hannover Ltd., No. 4:15-CV-01350, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151072 (M.D. Pa. Sept. 18, 2017) (Brann, J.)

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