The insured alleged that she “purchased an ‘all risk insurance policy’ from [the insurer], which covered [the insured’s] home and personal property, including coverage for water damages and for ‘loss of use’ from water damage.” The insured’s pipe broke inside the residence resulting in significant damage. After submitting her claim, she pleaded the insurer “paid for only a ‘small portion’ of the damages covered by the policy.” Subsequently, “it was discovered that the damages greatly exceeded the original amount paid by Defendant.” The insured alleged that her insurer refused “to perform a further inspection,” and refused to pay for contractually obligated living expenses of $28,225.62.
Under New Jersey law, “insurers are required to act in good faith and can be held liable for ‘bad-faith refusal to pay first-party claims or benefits.’ However, as to a bad faith claim, the New Jersey Supreme Court “adopted the ‘fairly debatable’ standard for tort recovery under insurance contracts.” Consequently, “if a claim is fairly debatable, no liability in tort will arise.” On the other hand, “if no debatable reasons existed for the denial of benefits, bad faith can be established.”
The court observed that an insurer’s “mere negligent inattention to a claim is not sufficient” to constitute bad faith. Moreover, an insured “must show that the insurer’s ‘conduct is unreasonable,’ or ‘the insurer knows the conduct is unreasonable or recklessly disregards the fact that the conduct is unreasonable.’”
Applying this law, the court determined that there is no “binding authority to support” the insurer’s argument that “as a matter of law, it cannot be liable because it first paid a claim but then refused to inspect (much less pay) later discovered-damage.” The court concluded that the insured’s allegations that the insurer “refused to reinspect the property once further damage was discovered” and “refused to pay an appraisal award despite its legal obligation” are sufficient facts to support a bad faith claim.
Date of Decision: June 6, 2018
Johnson v. Encompass Insurance Co., U. S. District Court, District of New Jersey Civil Action No. 17-3527, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94775 (D.N.J. June 6, 2018) (Vazquez, J.)