JANUARY 2016 BAD FAITH CASES: PENNSYLVANIA COURT APPLYING NEW JERSEY LAW FINDS THAT BAD FAITH QUESTION COULD GO TO JURY, EVEN WITHOUT ADJUSTER’S TESTIMONY FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT PURPOSES, IN THE ABSENCE OF ANY SETTLEMENT OFFER BY INSURED WHERE THERE SEEMED TO BE NO DEFENSE TO ONE COMPONENT OF INSURED’S DAMAGES CLAIMS (Philadelphia Federal)
In Stern v. AAA Mid-Atlantic Insurance Company, the Pennsylvania federal court applied New Jersey bad faith law to an Underinsured Motorist claim.
The court applied the fairly debatable standard, which it quoted as: “To show a claim for bad faith, a plaintiff must show the absence of a reasonable basis for denying benefits of the policy and the defendant’s knowledge or reckless disregard of the lack of a reasonable basis for denying the claim. It is apparent, then, that the tort of bad faith is an intentional one. * * * implicit in that test is our conclusion that the knowledge of the lack of a reasonable basis may be inferred and imputed to an insurance company where there is a reckless * * * indifference to facts or to proofs submitted by the insured.”
The insured put on a case at arbitration showing physical injuries, pain and suffering, and economic damages, which resulted in a meaningful award, including a specific finding of economic damages. The insurer’s refusal to pay the insured anything focused on claims for non-economic damages, with no explanation about why it would not settle the economic damages claim. The court found that “Defendant’s failure to make any settlement offer in the face of Plaintiffs’ proofs and a substantial arbitration award relating specifically to economic losses could be interpreted by a reasonable juror as reckless indifference to the facts.” The insurer’s verbal threshold argument was deemed inapplicable to underinsured claims.
The court concluded, in denying the insurer’s summary judgment motion: “At trial, Defendant will undoubtedly present testimony from its adjusters as to their analysis of both the economic and non-economic components of the claim, and Plaintiffs will be at a tactical disadvantage by having failed to depose them. The defense is correct that ordinarily a plaintiff’s failure to explore the thought process of the claims adjusters would be fatal to a claim for bad faith. But given the broad confines of this case and Defendant’s failure to make any offer whatsoever, there is a basis on which a jury could reasonably find bad faith. The evidence may be scant, but I cannot conclude that it is non-existent.”