How To Defend A Bad Faith Case When The Claims Rep Is A Bot, And Other Terrifying Questions…..

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I came across an extremely thought –  provoking article this morning on Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and the law, by Dennis Anderson on Law360.com, which began with the following futuristic, bone-chilling scenario:

On the evening of Dec. 23, 2016, at seven seconds after 5:49 p.m., the holder of a renter’s policy issued by upstart insurance company Lemonade tapped “submit” on the company’s smartphone app. Just three seconds later, he received a notification that his claim for the value of a stolen parka had been approved, wire transfer instructions for the proper amount had been sent and the claim was closed. The insured was also informed that before approving the claim, Lemonade’s friendly claims-handling bot, “A.I. Jim,” cross-referenced it against the policy and ran 18 algorithms designed to detect fraud.

This piece goes on to ask a question which I have yet to stop thinking about:  how to defend an insurance company claims decision when the decision is made by an algorithm, not a human being?

Before attempting a reasonably good answer to this question, if there is  good answer to be had at all,  a quick review of history is in order:  this is not the insurance claims industry’s first foray into using artificial intelligence to process claims.   Countless bad faith claims in the past have in fact been premised on that very thing, i.e., the use of a computer program to put the value on a bodily injury claim, for example.  The very use of software to value a claim was the central theme of the bad faith complaint.  Many of those claims, however, were successfully defended by lawyers for  insurers who  argued that such computer-provided data was merely a starting point, and that claims representatives with blood pulsing through their veins then went to work to take that piece of information, along with countless other pieces of information, to value, negotiate,  and otherwise  process the claim in good faith –  the Human Element Defense, let’s call it.

Now, a stolen parka, I grant you,  is a far cry from  a soft tissue neck injury.  But it is not hard to see that in the future, algorithms can and will be developed to use A.I. to adjust property damage and homeowners’ claims, commercial coverage claims,  and , yes, let’s  be bold here, personal injury claims.

I have spent decades defending bad faith claims, and every defense begins and ends with the same thing:  what was the claims representatives thought process?  Can that process be traced, documented, demonstrated, and shown in the light of day to be a reasonable approach to a difficult problem?

Are we coming to a time now when claims logs and insurer communications will simply be replaced with massive strings of zeroes and ones?  How can you tell a story made out of zeroes and ones?

The immediate question, of course, becomes how to defend a claims algorithm in a bad faith case  to a jury of humans, or a human judge sitting in a bench trial.  There is, I’m afraid no immediate answer, except perhaps this one — it is best to continue to  include human beings, in some capacity,  in a claims process which may later have to be explained and legally justified to other human beings.

Stated another way, a purely mathematical,  algorithmic defense of a bad faith claim may not be fully successful until the time comes when judges and juries are also algorithms, and, so too, are the lawyers.

I hope I’m retired by then.

CJH

 

 

 

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Professional Liability Insurer Off The Hook For Settlement After Insured Fails To Obtain Consent To Settle, Ninth Circuit Rules

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PASADENA, Jan. 19 – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a professional liability insurer had no obligation to fund a settlement agreed to by the insured, which did not obtain the insurer’s consent to the deal, as required in the policy.

In One West Bank, FSB v. Houston Casualty Co.,  Houston Casualty wrote a professional liability policy requiring the insured to seek prior written consent before resolving any covered claim by way of settlement.

The insured, One West, was sued for failure to properly administer loans it was servicing.  One West reached an agreement to settle with the plaintiff in the underlying case, but it neither sought or obtained  Houston Casualty’s written consent to the terms prior to executing the term sheet.  Applying California law, the 9th Circuit Court ruled that One West breached  prior written consent provision of the policy, thereby relieving Houston Casualty of its obligation to fund or cover the settlement.

In the ruling, while the Court recognized that an insured could be relieved of the consent obligation for  economic necessity, insurer breach, or other extraordinary circumstances, it affirmed the district court’s finding that no such circumstances existed.

Also, while One West alleged that Houston Casualty breached the insuring agreement and its common law obligation of good faith, the Court affirmed dismissal of those claims, ruling that there was no evidence that Houston Casualty withheld any benefits due under the policy, in light of the consent provision.

One West Bank, FSB v. Houston Casualty Co., 676 Fed.Appx. 664, 2017 WL 218900 (9th Cir., filed January 19, 2017).

Keeping the “I” In IME: Pa. Supreme Court Refuses To Overturn Order Barring Plaintiff’s Lawyer From Portions of Neuropsych IME

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HARRISBURG, Jan. 18 –  Defendants in Pennsylvania civil personal injury litigation may have gotten a bit more incentive to try to keep independent medical exams free of interference by Plaintiffs’ lawyers.  This week, the Pa. Supreme Court quashed an interlocutory appeal from a trial court order barring the plaintiff’s counsel from attending parts of his client’s neuropsychological IME or recording the exam.

In Shearer v. Hafer, 2018 Pa. Lexis 353, the Pa. Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal  to consider whether a plaintiff in a civil personal injury action has the right to have counsel present and to record a neuropsychological examination of that plaintiff by a defendant’s neuropsychologist.  At the trial court level in Shearer, a Lebanon County judge issued a protective order ruling that the personal injury Plaintiff’s counsel could be present during the preliminary interview phase of the exam, but that no individual would be permitted in the evaluation room with Mrs. Shearer and the doctor during the standardized testing portion of the evaluation.  The order also provided that  the evaluation could not  be recorded.

On appeal to the Pa. Superior Court, the court affirmed the trial court ruling after finding that the order in question was collateral and properly appealable.   The Plaintiff then sought an allowance of appeal from the state Supreme Court.

In a 6-1 ruling,  the Pa. Supreme Court vacated the Superior Court ruling, and quashed the appeal, finding that an appeal from  the order in question was an unauthorized interlocutory appeal.  In writing for the majority, Justice Sandra McCloskey Todd analyzed the order under a three-part test for the appealability of interlocutory orders.

While finding that the order was separable from the main cause of action of the automobile accident case, thus satisfying the first prong of the analysis, Justice Todd found that the second and third elements of the analysis were not met.  As to the second element, the Court found that the interests in question would not go unprotected without immediate appellate review.  As to the third prong, The Court also found that the right asserted, i.e., to counsel at the entire IME,  would not be irretrievably lost, as the Plaintiff could obtain a new trial following an appeal at the end of the case.

The Court went to some length to discuss that the right of counsel at an IME was not a constitutional one, but rather one granted in the Pa. Rules of Civil Procedure,  Pa.R.C.P. 4010.  Those rules also provide that trial courts can craft protective orders in discovery to balance and accommodate the interests of competing litigants, via Pa.R.C.P. 4012.

While the Supreme Court did not address the merits of the protective order itself, the ruling suggests that if a protective order limiting the participation of the Plaintiff’s lawyer at an IME can be secured from the trial court,  the benefits of such an order are not likely to be disturbed by interlocutory appeal.

 

Application Satisfies Requirement of Written Election of Lower UM/UIM Limits, Federal Court Finds

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HARRISBURG, Dec. 29 – A U.S. District Court magistrate judge has ruled that an original signed application was  a valid means of choosing UM/UIM limits lesser than bodily injury limits under Pennsylvania’s motor vehicle law, even if a separate option selection form was not compliant with the statute.

In Farmland Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sechrist, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 213618 (M.D. Pa., Dec. 29, 2017)(Arbuckle, M.J.), Plaintiff Farmland Mutual Insurance Company filed a declaratory judgment suit  against Defendants Edward Alfred Sechrist and Gary Bryant Kauffman, employees of Farmland’s insured, Clouse Trucking, seeking a  ruling that the commercial automobile insurance policy issued with a $1 million liability limit  provided $35,000 of combined single limit coverage for underinsured motorist claims arising out of an accident on April 30, 2013 in which both Sechrist and Bryant were seriously injured.

The Employees opposed Farmland Mutual, contending that the UIM limit should be equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability limit of $1 millon, on grounds that there was not a valid election of lesser UIM coverage pursuant to the Pa.M.V.F.R.L.  The employees claimed that the insurance policy should be reformed to include one million dollars of underinsured motorist coverage because the requirement of a signed writing choosing reduced UIM coverage  under 75 Pa.C.S.A. section 1734 was not met.

U.S. Magistrate Judge William I. Arbuckle first agreed with the employees that a specific UIM option selection form did not comply with section 1734 and was therefore not a valid election of lesser coverage:

Section 1734 of the MVFRL allows a named insured to elect limits of underinsured motorist coverage in an amount equal to or less than a policy’s liability limit for bodily injury. 75 Pa.C.S.A. section 1734.   Absent a signed, written election for lesser coverage, it is presumed that the underinsured motorist coverage limit is the same as the bodily injury liability coverage limit. . .

The Underinsured Motorist Coverage Selection form in this case. . .    is signed by Mr. Clouse but does not expressly designate the amount of coverage requested. Accordingly, we find that this form does not satisfy the requirements of  75 Pa.C.S.A. section 1734.

Judge Arbuckle went on to find, however, that the original insurance application prepared by an insurance agent, and signed by Mr. Clouse selecting the lesser amount of coverage, did meet the requirement of a signed writing under section 1734:

The parties dispute whether the Insurance Policy Application in this case satisfies the writing requirement of section 1734. . . Farmland contends that the Farmland Policy Application signed by Mr. Clouse is a valid written election of lower coverage under section 1734. By contrast, the Employees contend that the Farmland Policy Application does not satisfy the requirements of section 1734 because: (1) the Farmland Policy Application does not advise Clouse Trucking of Farmland’s obligation to offer underinsured Motorist coverage limits equal to the Farmland Policy’s limit for bodily injury; and (2) the Farmland Policy Application is not a clear indication of Clouse Trucking’s intent to purchase a underinsured motorist coverage below the Farmland Policy limit for bodily injury because the blanks in the Farmland Policy Application were filled in by an insurance agent.

As an initial matter, I find that Farmland is correct that the Farmland  Policy Application meets the requirements of section 1734. The Farmland Policy Application  is signed by Mr. Clouse, and does request a specific amount of underinsured motorist coverage.

In short, Judge Arbuckle found that the policy documents, including the application, constituted a valid written request for reduced UIM coverage.  He also found that whether or not an insurance agent completed the application itself  was irrelevant, provided, as here, that the insured certified via signature his review and adoption of the statements contained in the application.

Farmland Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sechrist, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 213618 (M.D. Pa., Dec. 29, 2017)(Arbuckle, M.J.)