“DEEMS EXPEDIENT” CLAUSE UNDERMINES BAD FAITH SETTLEMENT CLAIM; 4 YEAR STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS APPLIES TO CONTRACT BASED BAD FAITH CLAIMS (Philadelphia Federal)

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The essence of the insured’s case is the insurer settled claims against the insured without the insured’s knowledge or permission, and without adequate investigation.  The insurer paid $995,000 out of a $1 Million policy to the person injured in the insured’s ambulance. The insured asserts the carrier overpaid to settle, resulting in $200,000 in damages from increased premiums.

The complaint did not include any reference to statutory bad faith, 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371. Thus, the court found that the sole “bad faith” claim at issue was a breach of the contractual duty of good faith and fair dealing.

The insurer moved to dismiss based on section 8371’s two-year statute of limitations. Since this is a contract based bad faith claim, however, the statute of limitations is four years, and that argument was rejected.

As to the merits, the carrier asserts the policy language expressly provides it can settle any claim or suit as it considers appropriate. Thus, it has complete authority to settle within policy limits at any amount.  The insured argues this is “absurd,” but offers no authority to support its position.

The court ruled for the insurer, observing: “Pennsylvania law disfavors bad faith claims where a policy grants the insurer discretion to settle and where such settlement is within policy limits. However, ‘in limited circumstances,’ ‘a claim for bad faith may … be asserted against the insurance company notwithstanding a ‘deems expedient’ provision … if such settlement was contrary to the intent and expectation of the parties.’” Here, the court found the “settle when appropriate” language to be the equivalent of a deems expedient provision.

The court cited two precedents where a deems expedient provision undermined the possibility of a bad faith claim. In the first, there was no evidence the parties did not freely negotiate policy terms. As to the second, the Third Circuit interpreted “’deems expedient’ clauses broadly—so broadly as to allow insurers to settle claims subject to such clauses ‘for nuisance value of the claim’ or even where a ‘suit … presents no valid claim against the defendants.’”

In the present case, the insured does not contend the deems expedient clause was not freely negotiated. Moreover, even if the insurer could have done more to investigate the underlying claim, “the ‘deems expedient’ clause in its policy afforded [the insurer] the option of settling … simply because it preferred settlement over further investigation of his claim.”

Thus, the bad faith claim was dismissed with prejudice.

Date of Decision: July 22, 2020

Healthfleet Ambulance, Inc. v. Markel Insurance Co., U.S. District Court Eastern District of Pennsylvania CIVIL ACTION NO. 20-2250, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129185 (E.D. Pa. July 22, 2020) (Beetlestone, J.)

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