NOVEMBER 2013 BAD FAITH CASES: COURT DISMISSES BAD FAITH CLAIM FINDING PLAINTIFF’S OWN CONDUCT, NOT THE INSURER’S, LED TO DELAYS IN THE CLAIM INVESTIGATION (Western District)

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Plaintiffs brought suit against their homeowner insurer seeking damages for breach of contract and bad faith after their home was allegedly damaged in a hail and windstorm. The storm took place in March of 2011. Six months later, in September of 2011, plaintiffs first provided notice to the insurer of any claim relating to the storm. When the insurer sent a representative to inspect the home for damage, it discovered plaintiffs had gutted all of the areas where the damage allegedly took place.

Following the site inspection, the insurer arranged for an engineer to conduct an inspection of the home. After the inspection, the insurer issued a payment of $741.63 for hail damage, and declined to make any further payment. Following the denials, plaintiffs filed suit against the insurer alleging breach of contract, bad faith for delays in the claim investigation, and violations of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law. After extensive litigation, plaintiffs filed a Rule 41(a)(2) motion to dismiss, and the insurer moved for summary judgment.

The court denied plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss, finding it was merely an effort to have the case returned to state court, which plaintiffs perceived would be a more favorable forum, despite the extraordinary and extensive litigation which had already taken place in the district court.

The court also held in the insurer’s favor on the bad faith claim, finding plaintiffs’ own conduct significantly contributed to the delays in the claim investigation. Plaintiffs failed to notify the insurer of the loss until nearly six months after the loss. Furthermore, plaintiffs gutted the entire area in which the damage allegedly took place months before providing notice of the loss to the insurer, preventing the insurer from conducting any kind of inspection of the damage to the home.

While plaintiffs claimed photographs were taken prior to the demolition, such photographs were never produced, nor were any estimates, bills, invoices, or cancelled checks for the demolition and renovation work. The insurer held the claim open in anticipation of these items, but never received any of the requested documents. Given plaintiffs’ actions, the investigate delays were reasonable and not in bad faith, and summary judgment was granted in the insurer’s favor.

Date of Decision: October 25, 2013

Hayden v. Westfield Ins. Co., Civil Action No. 12-0390, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 153334 (W.D. Pa. Oct. 25, 2013) (Hornak, J.)

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