In Focht v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company, the homeowner insureds brought breach of contract and bad faith claims centering on a water based loss. The coverage issue centered on whether the damage at issue was caused by flood damage arising up inside the house, or water penetrating the house during a storm and causing damage from above. The former was not covered. The insurer investigated and found that the storm damage in the upper part of the house did not correlate with water damage, but the water damage was consistent with flooding. The insured’s public adjuster found evidence to support that the water did infiltrate from above.
The court ruled that while a reasonable jury could find for the insureds, there was no evidence to support a bad faith claim. The insureds’ allegations at most added up to negligence or bad judgment, not bad faith. That the insurer covered a water damage claim 8 years earlier that was arguably excluded, did not help the insureds make out a case.
Even if the exclusion had applied and the insurer paid anyway, “all that could mean is that Plaintiffs received money … to which they were not entitled.” Such an oversight by the carrier 8 years earlier could not be evidence of bad faith in a separate claim, “when Plaintiffs’ policy specifically excludes the damage that [the insurer] determined was at issue [8 years later] and when there is no evidence in the record that that determination was motivated by dishonesty or a breach of known duty as would be required to establish bad-faith liability under Terletsky.”
In addressing the factual assertions the insureds made to defend against summary judgment, it was significant to the court that a number of facts or issues raised were not actually relevant to the coverage dispute actually at issue, particular observing that the dispute over surface vs. subsurface water was immaterial as neither was covered. The court also found that the length of time the insurer’s inspector took with the property, 25-30 minutes, did not create an issue where there was no other evidence to indicate it should have taken longer.
Date of Decision: September 5, 2014
Focht v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 3:12-CV-01199, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124561 (M.D. Pa. September 5, 2014) (Mariani, J.)