NOVEMBER 2016 BAD FAITH CASES: ALLOWING REINSURER TO IMPROPERLY HANDLE CLAIM EXPOSES INSURER TO BAD FAITH CLAIMS; REINSURER CANNOT BRING DIRECT CLAIMS AGAINST INSURED FOR REVERSE BAD FAITH OR INSURANCE FRAUD (Western District)

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This factually complicated case involved reverse bad faith and 18 Pa.C.S. § 4117 insurance fraud claims by an insurer and reinsurer, and bad faith claims by the insured against its insurer.

The court first ruled that a reinsurer could not void an insurance policy to which it was not a party, since it had no contractual privity with the insured. It then concluded that the reinsurer could not be considered an insurer for purposes of section 4117(g) fraud claims. Finally, after discussing the state of the law on “reverse bad faith”, the court again found this to be a contractually based claim, and the reinsurer simply did not have a contract with the insured. Summary judgment was granted against the reinsurer on all of these issues.

The insured claimed that the insurer breached the insurance contract by allowing the reinsurer to adjust the claim and to take the lead in decision making on claims handling. The court ruled this was an issue for the jury to decide and would not grant summary judgment. However, the court also left it to the jury whether the insured could recover if the insured’s conduct also breached the insurance agreement.

As to the insurer’s summary judgment motion on the insured’s counterclaims, the court found that in electing to affirm the contract and pursue money damages, rather than to seek rescission, the insured cannot argue that a breach of its own obligations under the policy can somehow be ignored in addressing the insurer’s defense.

As to the alleged fraud claim against the insured, the insured took the position that the alleged fraud was carried out by a third party. The insurer argued apparent authority, and the court concluded that the issue of apparent authority in making out a fraud claim against the insured was a jury issue. There was also extensive and detailed discussion of the particulars of the alleged fraud, which will not be addressed here.

The insured also brought claims for common law and statutory bad faith against its insurer. [In looking at the statutory bad faith case law, the court cited authority reiterating the questionable theory that the bad faith statute was intended to address conduct beyond the denial of a benefit.] The court found that the both claims survived summary judgment.

The insured’s basic theory was that the insurer “essentially abandoned its insured during the claims adjustment process by turning [the insured’s] fate over to an unrelated third party that, as a practical matter, was not subject to [the insurer’s] control, had no contractual accountability to [the insured], and had a financial incentive to minimize the amount of payments that would be made to [the insured] under the Policy.” The third party is the reinsurer, and evidence was presented to the court that the reinsurer “was given the final say on various issues that were important, if not critical, to the adjustment of [the] loss and the continuation of [the insured’s] business, including the valuation of [the insured’s] daily revenue value (which were important for purposes of calculating its business income losses), the determination that business income payments would cease upon [the insured’s] relocation to the new … facility, and the ultimate decision to cancel the Policy. [The insured] has also produced evidence from which a factfinder could infer that [the reinsurer], in exercising its discretion, placed its own financial interests ahead of [the direct carrier’s] insured.

The court also cited to conflicts in claims handling mandates of the reinsurance treaty, and evidence suggesting that the insurer disagreed with the reinsurer’s “course of action in important respects, yet failed to take any corrective action for the benefit of its insured.” The court stated that the direct insurer “may be held liable … for the acts committed by [the reinsurer] in connection with the investigation and adjustment of its claim.” Thus, the court concluded that the evidentiary record construed in the non-movant insured’s favor “could support a finding of bad faith on the part of [the insurer] as it relates to the investigation and adjustment of [the insured’s] loss.” Summary judgment was thus denied to the insurer on the bad faith claims.

Date of Decision: September 29, 2016

Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection & Insurance Company v. International Glass Products, LLC, No. 2:08cv1564, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135045 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 29, 2016) (Cercone, J.)

 

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