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Plaintiff brought suit against his insurance carrier alleging breach of an auto insurance contract and bad faith in connection with his claim for uninsured motorist coverage. Plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle insured by the carrier that was involved in a collision with a vehicle that fled the scene of the accident. Plaintiff was severely injured in the crash, suffering permanent vision loss and loss of stereoscopic depth perception in his right eye.  Plaintiff also claimed damages for past and future medical expenses, mental and physical suffering, inconvenience in carrying out daily activities, a loss of life’s pleasures and enjoyment, humiliation, embarrassment, anxiety, disfigurement, and past and future loss of earnings, earning power, and earning capacity.

Plaintiff’s policy provided, “Limits of liability: (Stacked) $100,000 each person, $300,000 each occurrence.” The carrier made an offer of $100,000 in exchange for a full and final release, which plaintiff found to be unreasonable in light of his extensive injuries. The carrier made no other offers to settle the claim. The policy also provided, “In no event will any insured be entitled to more than the highest per-person limit applicable to any one motor vehicle under this policy,” with the caveat that if the insured selected the “stacked” coverage, the coverage would apply as listed on the declarations sheet. Plaintiff’s Declarations listed four vehicles, with Uninsured Motorists – Bodily Injury limits of “(Stacked) $100,000 Each Person, $300,000 Each Occurrence.” Based on this language, Plaintiff apparently believed the limits under the policy to be $400,000 per person. Plaintiff alleged no reasonable basis existed for refusing and failing to pay the full amount of benefits owed to him under the policy, and that the carrier acted willfully and recklessly.

In count two of the complaint, plaintiff claimed the carrier acted in bad faith through 14 different failures, shortcomings, and other behaviors. The carrier filed a motion to dismiss, alleging the statements in the complaint were merely conclusory and boilerplate, and thereby failed to state a bad faith claim.

The court found that the complaint was, in fact, primarily conclusory statements, unsupported by factual allegations. While plaintiff claimed the carrier misrepresented the policy, he did not allege what misrepresentations the carrier made; plaintiff alleged the carrier used abusive and coercive tactics to settle the claim without explaining what those tactics were; plaintiff alleged the carrier failed to thoroughly investigate his claim, but did not allege what procedures were used, what procedures would have been sufficient, and how the carrier failed to use them.

In support of its motion, the carrier referenced three cases which were dismissed for failure to state a claim and that made similar, if not identical, claims to plaintiff’s complaint. The carrier also relied on Sypeck v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., in which the plaintiff alleged bad faith on the basis of her carrier’s facially unreasonable offer to settle her suit. The Sypeck court, however, held “even if the offer was facially unreasonable, that does not prove that [the carrier] acted in bad faith – rather, it might have negligently failed to investigate and evaluate, leading to an unreasonable settlement offer.”

Based on these findings, the judge determined plaintiff’s claims were merely “conclusory allegations that characterize[d] the [carrier’s] conduct.” As such, Magistrate Judge Susan Schwab recommended the case be dismissed in part without prejudice and the plaintiff be granted leave to amend his complaint, and District Court Judge Christine Conner adopted Judge Schwab’s recommendation.

Date of Decision: May 10, 2013

Adopted: June 7, 2013

Yohn v. Nationwide Ins. Co., Civil No. 1:13-CV-00024, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80703 (May 10, 2013) (Schwab, M.J.)

Yohn v. Nationwide Ins. Co., Civil No. 1:13-CV-00024, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80151 (June 7, 2013) (Conner, J.)