IS THE UNFAIR INSURANCE PRACTICES ACT (UIPA) RELEVANT TO STATUTORY BAD FAITH CLAIMS, OR NOT?
Three April 2019 decisions out of Pennsylvania’s Eastern District bring up the ongoing issue of whether alleged Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA) violations may be used in any manner to establish statutory bad faith claims under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371. We also discussed this issue in a February 2019 post that can be found here.
Case holding UIPA violations may be used to prove bad faith
In the April 3, 2019 Blease decision, the court relied heavily on the UIPA in finding the insured adequately pleaded a statutory bad faith case. That opinion is summarized here.
In particular, the court looked to the UIPA code sections governing 45-day status notices when the claim is not resolved within 30 days. Relying on Pennsylvania Superior Court precedent, the Blease Court stated: “This Court further notes that a plaintiff seeking damages for an insurer’s bad faith conduct under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371 may attempt to prove bad faith by demonstrating that the insurer has violated one or more provisions of related Pennsylvania insurance statutes or regulations, even if they do not independently provide for private causes of action.”
It is not wholly clear whether this means a UIPA violation may be used as evidence of a statutory bad faith claim, or whether the violation constitutes definitive proof, in and of itself, to establish at least the first prong of the Terletsky/Rancosky bad faith test (unreasonableness).
Case holding UIPA provides an evidentiary yardstick for bad faith cases
On April 23, 2019, another Eastern District Court issued a detailed opinion granting partial summary judgment to the insured, by holding that the insurer acted in bad faith during a very specific period of time. The court left other issues of bad faith, and other time periods, to the jury.
In Shawnee Tabernacle Church v. GuideOne, the court carried out a close factual analysis showing no dispute of material fact that the claim adjusters acted unreasonably and in bad faith in delaying the claim handling process over a period of many months, where there was no excuse for denying coverage or promptly responding to the insured. Thus, the court stated: “As a matter of law, I find that [the insurer] acted in bad faith when it abandoned the investigation and resolution of Plaintiffs’ claim between June 16, 2015 and October 5, 2015, and then further delayed a determination of coverage until December 11, 2015, despite the fact that it possessed all relevant information about the vacancy provision once the EUOs were complete.”
Following Rancosky, the court observed that the insured need not prove ill-will or self-interest to establish statutory bad faith. Moreover, relying on Pennsylvania Superior Court precedent, the court found that “bad faith may include ‘lack of good faith investigation into fact[s], and failure to communicate with the claimant,’ both of which certainly occurred in this case between June and December. … ‘Similarly, a delay in investigation of a claim may constitute bad faith where it involves [i]nexcusable periods of inactivity, unreasonable assumptions, and inadequate communication.’ Here, [the insurer] has offered no excuse for the inactivity with respect to coverage between June 16 and December 11, and it engaged in little to no communication with Plaintiffs about the coverage issue during the same period.”
Getting to the UIPA, again citing Superior Court precedent, the court found that “[t]he lack of communication is a violation of Section 146.7(c)(1) of Title 31 of the Pennsylvania Code, which requires a report to the insured every 45 days explaining the reasons for delay in resolving a claim. Although such a violation does not establish bad faith per se, it constitutes relevant evidence. But Section 146.7(c)(1) has relevance beyond the obligation to communicate. By specifying the frequency with which a carrier must report to its insured, it provides an objective yardstick recognized by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department as to what constitutes a reasonable interval within which a carrier should be able to address the merits of a claim. From mid-June through mid-December, four full intervals elapsed without resolution or explanation, even as [the insured] faced financial peril. This further supports the conclusion that [the insurer’s] conduct was reckless during this period and constituted bad faith.”
UIPA violations cannot be used as evidence of statutory bad faith
By contrast, also on April 23, 2019, a third Eastern District Judge appears to deny any role for the UIPA in determining a statutory bad faith claim. The decision in Horn v. Minnesota Life Insurance Company can be found here. To quote that decision:
At Count IV, Plaintiff asserts that the handling of her claim under the Policy constituted bad faith, thus, entitling her to damages under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8371. Plaintiff contends that [the insurer] acted in bad faith by, inter alia, denying her claim, engaging in misleading marketing practices, failing to communicate regularly about its investigation, and acting in a manner prohibited by the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“UIPA”), 40 Pa. Stat. § 1171.1 et seq. “To prevail on a bad faith claim, the insured must prove two elements: ‘(1) that the insurer did not have a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy; and (2) that the insurer knew of or recklessly disregarded its lack of a reasonable basis in denying the claim.'” U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Kelman Bottles, 538 F. App’x 175, 182 (3d Cir. 2013) (quoting Nw. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Babayan, 430 F.3d 121, 137 (3d Cir. 2005)). The insured must prove these elements by clear and convincing evidence, and “the insured’s burden in opposing a summary judgment motion brought by the insurer is commensurately high.” Babayan, 430 F.3d at 137 (internal quotations omitted). Here, this Court finds that [the insurer] had a reasonable basis for denying benefits; namely, [the insured’s] premium had not been paid, and the grace period described in the Policy had expired at the time of [the insured’s] death. As such, Plaintiff cannot prove the first element of her bad faith claim, and summary judgment is granted with respect to that claim.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ bad faith is evidenced by their alleged violation of the UTPCPL and “insurance regulations” such as the UIPA and the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices regulations (“UCSP”), 31 Pa. Code §§ 146.1-146.10. However, Plaintiff is mistaken as these claims fail as a matter of law. See Leach v. Nw. Mut. Ins. Co., 262 F. App’x 455, 459 (3d Cir. 2008) (holding that “insofar as [plaintiff’s] claim for bad faith was based upon an alleged violation of the UIPA, it failed as a matter of law.”); Dinner v. U.S. Auto. Ass’n Cas. Ins. Co., 29 F. App’x 823, 827 (3d Cir. 2002); (“it is apparent from a comparison of bad faith standard [that the Pennsylvania Superior Court] adopted with the provisions of the UIPA and the UCSP that much of the conduct proscribed by the latter is wholly irrelevant” to the bad faith analysis); Watson v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 118873, 2011 WL 4894073, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 12, 2011) (observing that, since the current bad faith standard was established in Terletsky, “courts in the [Third] circuit have . . . refused to consider UIPA violations as evidence of bad faith.”). Therefore, summary judgment is granted with respect to Plaintiff’s claim of bad faith.