TAMPA, Fla., May 12 — On May 12, GEICO Insurance lost a bid in Florida federal court to dismiss a bad faith suit premised upon its alleged failure to adequately defend a GEICO insured in a personal injury action. The Court ruled that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether the insurer acted in bad faith in its handling of the claim.
The insureds, Manuel A. and Aleli Gonzalez bought auto insurance from GEICO General Insurance Co. and added their grandson Ishmael Ramjohn as an additional insured. Ramjohn allegedly injured Lisa Anderson in an automobile accident in February 2009, whereupon Anderson’s attorney attempted to settle Anderson’s claim with GEICO .
Anderson’s lawyer and GEICO communicated several times during 2009, leading to his sending a demand for the $100,000.00 bodily injury policy limit insuring Ramjohn. GEICO offered $2,581.16 to resolve the claim. Later, GEICO increased its offer to $22,500.00 after receiving additional information on Anderson’s injuries.
After Anderson sued the insureds in the Hillsborough County, Fla., Circuit Court for damages, GEICO offered the $100,000 policy limits, which Anderson rejected. A jury in that case returned a verdict for Anderson in the amount of $398,097.82.
The insureds then sued GEICO in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, alleging bad faith in handling Ramjohn’s defense.
In denying GEICO’s motion for summary judgment, Judge James S. Moody Jr. held:
“the record reflects facts that could permit a jury to find that GEICO acted in bad faith…In other words, this case, like most bad-faith cases, presents a genuine dispute that requires a jury’s resolution…For example, [insureds’ expert Peter] Knowe’s testimony creates a genuine issue for trial. Knowe testified that GEICO’s handling of the Anderson claim deviated from industry standards in several key respects. Remarkably, GEICO does not address or reference Knowe’s expert opinion anywhere in its motion…there is also evidence suggesting that GEICO did not evaluate Anderson’s claim from the perspective of a reasonable insured facing unlimited exposure.”
Judge Moody added that a reasonable jury could find that GEICO’s offer strategy in the case was executed in aid of a policy to reduce average loss payments.