Disagreement Over ACV Estimate Insufficient To Support Bad Faith Claim, Judge Rules

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PITTSBURGH, March 2  —  An ACV basis estimate upon which a homeowners’ claims offer was made by State Farm Insurance  did not lack a reasonable basis, a federal judge ruled in dismissing the homeowners bad faith claim.  In Randy Gowton v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon dismissed Gowton’s bad faith claim against State Farm, finding that the  insured  failed to show that his insurer’s offer to settle “was not supported by a thorough and even-handed investigation.”

Gowton sustained damage to his home in a fire, and submitted an estimate from his contractor to State Farm for a replacement cost benefit of $293,911.80.  After performing its own inspection, State Farm offered just $112,694.50, based on a replacement cost estimate of $187,874.50, less  depreciation of $75,180.15.  Gowton’s policy was payable on an “actual cash value benefits” basis.

Gowton sued State Farm in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas, and after removing the case to federal court, State Farm moved to dismiss the bad faith count.  A breach of contract count had previously been dismissed by Judge Bissoon on statute of limitations grounds.

Judge Bissoon held that mere disagreement on the value of a claim following a reasonable investigation could not support a claim for bad faith:

“Gowton has failed to allege any facts to suggest that State Farm’s settlement offer lacked a reasonable basis or was not supported by a thorough and even-handed investigation… Significantly, Gowton’s response brief reiterates that he is not alleging that State Farm was dilatory, failed to communicate, performed an unsatisfactory or biased investigation or unreasonably delayed in considering his claim.  Rather, Gowton simply alleges that State Farm’s estimate was per se unreasonable for no other reason than that it differed from his own.. In the absence of any supporting facts from which it might be inferred that the company’s investigation was biased or unreasonable, this type of disagreement in an insurance case is ‘not unusual,’ and ‘cannot, without more, amount to bad faith.”

“This conclusion is bolstered by an examination of the exhibits referenced throughout Gowton’s Amended Complaint.  State Farm performed an initial inspection of the property only two days after the damage occurred and provided a detailed, 38-page estimate within a month thereafter.  State Farm’s estimate contains a room-by-room assessment of the damage; detailed measurements; design drawings; materials analysis; and line by line estimates of the cost and depreciation of the construction materials necessary to rebuild the home.  This is precisely the type of thorough and adequate investigation that vitiates a claim of bad faith.”

Randy Gowton v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., et al., No. 15-1164, W.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29390 (Bissoon, J.)

UM/UIM Rejection Form Need Not Comply Verbatim With Statute, State High Court Rules

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HARRISBURG, Feb.22 – In a 5-2 decision, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that a UM/UIM rejection form which did not comply verbatim with the statutory requirements for rejection was valid, finding the differences between the form and the statutorily required language “inconsequential.”

In Ford v. Am. States,  the Plaintiff rejected UM/UIM coverage in her auto policy by signing a form which, according to the opinion, was identical to the statutorily required waiver in 75 Pa.C.S.A. sec. 1731 except for the following:  1.) the form referenced “motorists” instead of “motorist” in its title line and first sentence, and 2.) it injected the word “motorists” between  Underinsured” and “coverage” in the second sentence.

The American States form read, therefore, as follows:

REJECTION OF UNDERINSURED MOTORISTS PROTECTION

By signing this waiver I am rejecting underinsured motorists coverage under this policy, for myself and all relatives residing in my household. Underinsured motorists coverage protects me and relatives living in my household for losses and damages suffered if injury is caused by the negligence of a driver who does not have enough insurance to pay for all losses and damages. I knowingly and voluntarily reject this coverage.

In affirming summary judgment in favor of American States, Justice Max Baer rejected Ford’s argument that the form she signed violated Section 1731, and cited to Robinson V. Travelers Indemnity Co., 520 Fed. Appx. 85 (3d Cir. 2013).  In Robinson, the identical language used by American States was found to be in compliance with the Pa.M.V.F.R.L.:

“the Third Circuit observed that the MVFRL does not define the phrase “specifically comply” and that courts have not been uniform in their treatment of UIM coverage rejection forms that add language to the statutory form. Robinson, 520 Fed.Appx. at 88. As to the specific circumstances in the case, the court reasoned that the addition of the word “motorists” into the rejection form did not introduce any ambiguity and, in fact, made the form consistent with the rest of the MVFRL. Id. While the court opined that it is a better practice for  insurance companies not to supplement the statutory language of the MVFRL’s rejection form, the court nonetheless concluded that the insurer’s rejection form was valid because: it included the entirety of the statutory text; the addition of the word “motorists” did not introduce ambiguity into the form and did not alter the scope of the coverage.”. .  when a UIM rejection form differs from the statutory form in an inconsequential manner, the form will be construed to specifically comply with Section 1731 of the MVFRL.”

Justice Baer did caution, however, that the safer practice for insurers was to replicate the statutory language to avoid any question of non-compliance of UM/UIM rejection forms.

Ford. v. American States Ins. Co. (Pa., Feb. 22, 2017) (Baer, J.)

Claims Delay Not Unreasonable, In Bad Faith, Judge Rules

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SCRANTON, Pa., Jan. 31 — An auto insurer did not unreasonably delay processing of a claim, a Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled.   In Thomas and Colleen Meyers v. Protective Insurance Co., No. 16-1821, M.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11338, a delay in the payment of an auto claim at issue in the case was found not so unreasonable as to constitute bad faith.

Thomas Meyers was insured by a hit-and-run vehicle while working as a delivery man on  Jan. 21, 2014.  He filed a claim alleging serious injury  with  Protective Insurance Co.,  for uninured/underinsured motorist benefits on April 23, 2014.  Meyers sought medical expenses and wage loss of more than $120,000.00 on Feb. 1, 2006.  He claims to have received no response from Progressive for more than three months.

On May 26, 2016, Meyers rejected a settlement offer from Protective in the amount of $225,000 .  Meyers later rejected an increased offer, and Protective hired counsel requesting additional time to review the claim.  Protective’s counsel required Meyers to complete four medical evaluations.

Meyers sued the Protective in the Lackawanna County, Pa., Court of Common Pleas, stating claims for breach of contract, common law, and  statutory bad faith pursuant to 42 Pa. C.S. §8371.  Protective removed the action to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and moved to dismiss all claims including breach  of “fiduciary duty,” bad faith and a loss of consortium claim.

Judge A. Richard Caputo dismissed all fiduciary claims, holding, “[u]nder Pennsylvania law, an insurer owes a duty of good faith and fair dealing toward their insureds.  It is well-established, however, that there is no fiduciary duty owed to an insured in the context of an underinsured/uninsured motorist benefits.”

Judge Caputo also rejected the bad faith claims, including allegations that Protective’s failure to communicate constituted bad faith, finding such claims unsupported.  The judge found  that the insurer contacted the Meyerses four times requesting information and/or providing updates on the investigation between March 9, 2016, and May 24, 2016:

“Moreover, after the first settlement offer was rejected by Plaintiffs, Defendant, within only one week, proposed a new, higher, settlement offer.  Although Defendant often did not immediately respond to Plaintiffs’ communications, an allegation of ‘failure’ to communicate is inconsistent with reality.  Defendant’s communications may be described as tardy, but I cannot impute bad faith or even unreasonable delay, especially in light of the fact that Defendant made a settlement offer within three-and-a-half months after receiving Plaintiffs’ estimate of damages.  Although ‘[d]elay is a relevant factor in determining whether bad faith had occurred,’ [Kosierowski v. Allstate Ins. Co., 51 F.2d 583, 588 (E.D.Pa.1999)], I am unable to find precedent supporting the proposition that an insurance company’s investigation of a claim lasting three-and-a-half months is unreasonably lengthy. . . “[t]here is also no evidence that Defendant failed to objectively and fairly evaluate Plaintiffs’ claims, or that the settlement offer was so inadequate as to constitute bad faith.”

Judge Caputo also did not find Protective’s settlement offers unreasonably low:

“First, given that the damages package provided by Plaintiffs included a ‘medical lien and wage loss documentation in an amount in excess of $122,000,’ a settlement offer that is higher by nearly $100,000 than the proposed damages package is not unreasonable, and ‘bad faith is not present merely because an insurer makes a low but reasonable estimate of an insured’s damages.’  Secondly, Plaintiffs’ assertion of a verdict potential is an opinion as to the value of their claim, not an objective measure of it, and because such an assertion is nothing more than a legal conclusion, it must be disregarded.  Simply put, Plaintiffs’ subjective belief as to the verdict potential of their claims cannot constitute evidence of bad faith on the part of Defendant because Defendant’s subjective belief as to the value of the claim may reasonably, and permissibly, differ.”

The judge granted Protective’s 12(b)(6) motion, and gave the Plaintiffs 21 days to amend their complaint.

Thomas and Colleen Meyers v. Protective Insurance Co., No. 16-1821, M.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11338

 

Insurer’s Correct Position On Coverage Bars Homeowners’ and Bad Faith Claims

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PITTSBURGH,  Jan. 10 – A federal judge from the Western District of Pa. has dismissed both bad faith and coverage claims in which a homeowner sought coverage for defective workmanship on the home as part of a demolition and rebuild.

In Wehrenberg v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 14-1477, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3242 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 10, 2017), U.S. District Judge Mark R. Hornack granted summary judgment to Metropolitan P&C Insurance Company on both breach of contract and bad faith claims brought by insured homeowner, Wehrenberg.  leased the house to a tenant, Hyatt, and authorized Hyatt to demolish and reconstruct the house.

Hyatt abandoned the house after gutting it, and the house, which had structural problems, was left unfinished.  Wehrenberg  submitted a claim the Metropolitan regarding the condition of the house, calling it “vandalism.”  Metropolitan denied the claim and Wehrenberg filed suit, claiming both breach of contract and bad faith.

Relying on policy language, Metropolitan moved for summary judgment on all claims on the following grounds:  (1) the loss was not “sudden and accidental direct physical loss or damage” under the terms of the Policy, (2) even if the loss is covered, the insured did not timely notify Metropolitan of the loss, and  (3) the damages claimed were explicitly excluded from coverage under the Policy, which did not cover construction related damage, and stated that the insurer was not responsible to pay for vandalism if the property was vacant for more than thirty days.

In granting the motion for Metropolitan, Judge Hornak held:

“First, the Court concludes that Plaintiff cannot, on the record before the Court, meet his burden of proving that his loss is covered by his Policy in the first instance. The Policy specifically provides that Defendant will only cover “sudden and accidental direct physical loss or damage to [Plaintiff’s] property.”. . . Under Pennsylvania law, “sudden and accidental” “mean[], respectively, ‘abrupt’ and ‘unexpected or unintended.'” U.S. Fire Ins. Co. v. Kelman Bottles, 538 F. App’x 175, 181 (3d Cir. 2013).”

The judge also dismissed the bad faith claims made by the insured, holding:

“In this case, as explained, there is no viable breach of contract claim, so the first part of Plaintiff’s bad faith claim cannot succeed. Second, Plaintiff argues that Defendant acted in bad faith by failing to adequately investigate his claim. In his papers, Plaintiff lists a variety of ways in which he asserts Defendant’s investigation was inadequate, including that Defendant did not conduct enough interviews to uncover the facts of the case and that Defendant did not look into allegedly stolen tiles brought into the house. ECF No. 88 at 12. Defendant however, asserts that an adequate investigation was conducted  and that it included an inspection of the house, interviews of Plaintiff and Hyman, consultation with its legal counsel, and the taking of Plaintiff’s Examination Under Oath. ECF No. 82 at 20. Plaintiff’s claim ultimately fails because he has not cited to anything in the record to support his argument—he merely alleges problems existed without providing any record evidence to prove them.”

Wehrenberg v. Metro. Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., No. 14-1477, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3242 (W.D. Pa. Jan. 10, 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsubstantiated Claims of Poor UM/UIM Claims Handling Not Sufficient Bad Faith Pleading, Federal Judge Rules

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PITTSBURGH, Dec. 21 — An insured failed to sufficiently plead bad faith in the handling of his underinsured motorist coverage claim by State Farm Insurance Company,  a federal judge ruled Dec. 21 in granting the insurer’s motion to dismiss without prejudice.

Robert R. Mondron was injured as a passenger in an auto accident, which allegedly caused injuries including head neck and facial injuries and internal injuries.  The driver of the vehicle tendered his full liability limits of $110,000 under his own policy, and Mondron sought UIM benefits from his insurer, State Farm.

According to Mondron, State Farm  “failed to make a reasonable offer of settlement,” sued the insurer in the Allegheny County, Pa., Court of Common Pleas, alleging breach of contract, bad faith,  and violation of the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL).

State Farm moved to dismiss the bad faith claims after removing the case to the  Western District of Pennsylvania.  In granting the motion, U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon held that dismissal of the bad faith claim is proper:

 “The gravamen of Plaintiff’s bad faith claim is that the Defendant unreasonably denied UIM [underinsured motorist] benefits to which Plaintiff is entitled under the terms of his parents’ insurance policy.  As noted, he alleges that Defendant ‘unreasonably delayed’ the handling of his claim, ‘inadequately investigated’ the claim, ‘failed to make a reasonable offer of settlement’ and ‘knew of or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis in evaluating Plaintiff’s underinsured motorist claim.’  These types of conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a plausible basis for relief.”

Judge Bissoon also found that Mondron’s Pennsylvania Unfair Insurance Practices Act (UIPA) claims should also be dismissed, holding “these allegations are nothing more than redundant and conclusory re-assertions of Plaintiff’s prior bad faith  allegations…Plaintiff’s generic invocation of statutory language is insufficient to satisfy his federal pleading burden.” Judge Bissoon stated. She similarly dismissed UTPCPL claims, all without prejudice.

Robert R. Mondron v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. 16-412, W.D. Pa.; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17604

Low Settlement Offer Not Conclusive Proof of Bad Faith

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A federal district court judge has dismissed a bad faith complaint in which the only allegation against the insurer was that it made a low offer of settlement in a UM/UIM case.  In West v. State Farm, U.S. District Judge John Jones dismissed a bad faith claim in an amended complaint on a motion to dismiss filed by the insurer, but allowed a breach of contract claim to proceed.

In West, the insured was rear-ended in an automobile accident, and filed UM/UIM claim with his insurer, State Farm. The insured submitted medical records and $8,232.00 in medical expenses, in response to which State Farm offered $1,000.00.

In the amended complaint, the insured alleged that the low offer was itself sufficient support for the allegation that State Farm recklessly disregarded a reasonable basis for paying more on the UM/UIM claim.  Judge Jones found the argument to be lacking, finding that the bad faith count of the complaint failed to allege sufficient factual support:

Plaintiff argues that the offer of $1,000 to settle $8,232.00 worth of medical bills shows bad faith. The Court finds that these facts are not sufficient, as a matter of law, to sustain a claim for bad faith. Plaintiff has not presented facts to show that Defendant “knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis in” in offering a “low-ball” offer. A “low-ball” offer alone does not suffice to support a claim for bad faith. “[B]ad faith is not present merely because an insurer makes a low but reasonable estimate of an insured’s damages.” Johnson v. Progressive Ins. Co., 987 A.2d 781, 784 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009) (citing Condio v. Erie Ins. Exchange, 899 A.2d 1136, 1142 (Pa. Super. 2006)). “[T]he failure to immediately accede to a demand for the policy limit cannot, without more, amount to bad faith.” Smith v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 506 F. App’x 133, 136 (3d Cir. 2012) (non-precedential).

The Court granted the Plaintiff  an additional thirty days to file a second amended complaint in an attempt to revive the bad faith claim.

West v. State Farm, CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-3185 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2016)(Jones, J.)

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Faith Claim Satisfies Federal Amount In Controversy Requirement

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PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 28 – A federal judge has denied a remand request in a removed action against Omni Insurance company, holding that while the amount of the coverage claim was only $28,000.00, a bad faith claim also in the suit satisfied the $75,000.00 jurisdictional amount.

Plaintiff Richard Duncan originally sued a motorist insured by Omni Insurance arising out of an automobile accident.  Omni denied its insured defense and indemnity on grounds of an unlicensed driver exclusion in the applicable policy.

Duncan won $28,000.00 in an arbitration against Omni’s insured who, after the award, assigned all rights it had against Omni to Duncan.  Duncan then filed coverage and bad faith claims against Omni in Philadelphia County, seeking the amount of the arbitration award, along with bad faith damages.  Omni removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pa., and Duncan moved to remand the case.

Eastern District Judge Harvey Bartle, III denied the remand motion, citing the 3rd Circuit precedent requiring reasonable reading of pleadings to determine amount in controversy, and holding:

“Because of the bad faith claim, we deem the amount in controversy requirement to have been met.”

Judge Bartle also granted summary judgment to Omni on the merits in the case, finding that the unlicensed driver exclusion was not void as against public policy, and that it barred coverage for the underlying loss.

Duncan v. Omni Insurance Company, CIVIL ACTION NO. 16-1489, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133134 (E. D. Pa., Sept. 28, 2016)

 

BREAKING NEWS — Pa. Supreme Court To Consider Whether Ill Will Is Prerequisite To Establishing Bad Faith

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HARRISBURG, Aug. 30 – The Pa. Supreme Court issued a ruling granting  appeal in a bad faith case to consider whether proof of ill will or motive is a prerequisite to establishing liability under the Pa. Bad Faith Statute, 42 Pa.C.S.A. §8371.

In Rancosky v. Wash. National Ins. Co. , 2016 Pa. LEXIS 1910 (Pa. Aug. 30, 2016), the state’s highest court ruled it will undertake limited review of a Pa. Superior Court ruling which granted a new trial to a bad faith plaintiff, an estate executor, after the trial court found for Washington National following a non-jury trial in a dispute over a cancer insurance policy.

The Supreme Court Order indicates it will review only the following issue:

“Whether this Court should ratify the requirements of Terletsky v. Prudential Property & Casualty Insurance Co., 649 A.2d 680 (Pa. Super. 1994), appeal denied, 659 A.2d 560 (Pa. 1995), for establishing insurer bad faith under 42 Pa.C.S. § 8371, and assuming the answer to be in the affirmative, whether the Superior Court erred in holding that Terletsky factor of a “motive of self-interest or ill-will” is merely a discretionary consideration rather than a mandatory prerequisite to proving bad faith?

While recognizing that the state legislature did not define bad faith, the Superior Court held that a statutory bad faith claim under Pennsylvania’s bad faith statute had two elements:  (1) the insurer did not have a reasonable basis for denying benefits under the policy, and (2) the insurer knew of or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis in denying the claim.  According to the Superior Court opinion, the trial court granted judgment to the insurer in part because the Plaintiff “failed to prove that Conseco [predecessor to Washington Mutual]  had a dishonest purpose” or a “motive of self-interest or ill-will.”

The Superior Court ruled it was sending the case back to the trial court for a new trial because the trial court’s finding that Plaintiff failed to prove the first element of the bad faith claim was in part premised upon  the Plaintiff’s failure to prove that the insurer in the case acted will ill will or a dishonest purpose.

The following passage from the Superior Court opinion, which could be seen as exalting form over substance, refers to an insurer’s ill will or dishonest purpose as  merely “probative.”  This aspect of the opinion could be what drew the Supreme Court’s attention:

We conclude that the trial court’s verdict is faulty based on its erroneous determination that Rancosky failed to establish the first prong of the test for bad faith because he failed to prove that Conseco had a dishonest purpose or a motive of self-interest or ill-will against LeAnn. As noted above, a dishonest purpose or a motive of self-interest or ill-will is probative of the second prong of the test for bad faith, rather than the first prong.. . .  The trial court could not have considered whether Conseco had a dishonest purpose or a motive of self-interest or ill-will unless it had first determined that Conseco lacked a reasonable basis for denying benefits to LeAnn under the Cancer Policy. However, because the trial court made no such determination, its consideration of a dishonest purpose or a motive of self-interest or ill-will was improper. Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court erred as a matter of law by using standards applicable to the second prong of the test for bad faith in its determination of whether Rancosky had satisfied the first prong of the test for bad faith.

Rancosky v. Wash. National Ins. Co. , 2016 Pa. LEXIS 1910 (Pa. Aug. 30, 2016)

 

 

State Farm Wins Auto Claim After Court Finds Insured Misrepresented Residency

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ALLENTOWN, July 22 — A federal judge in Pennsylvania has entered judgment on the pleadings in favor of State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., finding that the denial of an automobile insurance claim was appropriate where the insured stated in his application that he resided in Pennsylvania when he in fact resided in New York.

U.S. Judge Lawrence F. Stengel of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania held that George A. Hancle’s statement regarding where he lived was a material item, and that State Farm would not have issued the policy if it was aware Hancle did not live in Pennsylvania.  Judge Stengel also found that State Farm relied on Hancle’s statement of residency.

State Farm issued an automobile policy to Hancle on Jan. 31, 2014, for his vehicle, a 2013 Nissan Pathfinder. On the policy application, Hancle said he lived in Pennsylvania and that his truck was kept in a garage there.  Hancle and his wife were involved in an accident in February of 2014 in Brooklyn, N.Y.

State Farm sued the Hancles and Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp.  in Pennsylvania federal court on Oct. 27, 2014, seeking a declaration it owed no coverage to Hancle because he made misrepresentations in the application and did in fact not live in Pennsylvana. Hancle did not submit a response to the complaint, and a default judgment was entered in favor of State Farm in June of 2015.

State Farm filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings in the fall of 2015, and the insured again failed to respond. Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. a defendant in the declaratory judgment action, argued that the motion for judgment on the pleadings should not be granted because the state of Hancle’s residence was a genuine issue of material fact.

Judge Stengel disagreed, stating:

“There are no inferences left in this action to be drawn, and no material issues of fact to be resolved,” the judge concluded. “The well-pleaded factual allegations in State Farm’s complaint are considered admitted, and I accept them as true.”

State Farm Fire and Casualty Company v. Gregory A. Hancle, et al., No. 14-6140, E.D. Pa.; 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 95084

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