Electronic Signature On Limited Tort Form and Medical Peer Review Both Valid; Court Dismisses Bad Faith Claims Against Progressive

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PHILDADELPHIA, Dec. 11 – A Pennsylvania Federal judge has granted summary judgment in favor of Progressive Insurance in a bad faith case, finding in part that an electronic signature on a limited tort form was valid, and that use of a PRO medical review was also appropriate

In Jallad v. Progressive Advanced Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 202999, Plaintiff Sahar Jallad (“Jallad”) filed suit against a motorist defendant and her own insurer, Progressive Advanced Insurance Company (“Progressive”) in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, alleging negligence against the motorist,  Madera causing personal injuries,  and claims of breach of contract and bad faith against Progressive related to its handling of Jallad’s underinsured motorist (“UIM”) claim.

Following removal of the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, U.S. District Judge Robert F. Kelly granted Progressive’s motion for summary judgment on the bad faith claims.

Judge Kelly confirmed a long standing principle that the mere disagreement over the value of the insured’s injuries in the setting of a UIM claim was not a sufficient basis for a prima facie bad faith case against an insurer.

Judge Kelly went on to rule that none of four other arguments made by Jallad created a genuine issue of material fact as to the bad faith claims.  First, Kelly ruled that regardless of whether or not the tortfeasor’s insurer paid a $15,000.00 liability limit insuring Madera,  Progressive was entitled to a credit of that available limit toward the valuation of Jallad’s UIM claim.

Kelly further dismissed Jallad’s argument that her signature on a limited tort election was invalid:

“Jallad provides no citation to any case law or statute that prohibits insurance companies from obtaining electronic signatures for tort waiver forms. Further, Progressive responds that electronic signatures are permissible under both federal and Pennsylvania state law. See 15 U.S.C. § 7001; 73 P.S. § 2260.305. Accordingly, Jallad’s argument is without merit.”

Next, Judge Kelly ruled that Proressive’s use of a PRO reviews of Jallad’s medical records did not, as a matter of law, constitute bad faith:

“Pennsylvania law provides that “[i]nsurers shall contract jointly or separately with any peer review organization established for the purpose of evaluating treatment, health care services, products or accommodations provided to any injured person” and “[s]uch evaluation shall be for the purpose of confirming that such treatment, products, services or accommodations conform to the professional standards of performance and are medically necessary.” 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 1797(b)(1). Under the circumstances presented here, we fail to see how sending medical documentation to a PRO to determine whether medical treatment conforms to the professional standards of performance or is medically necessary amounts to bad faith.”

The Court finally ruled that Progressive’s request for documents concerning Jallad’s wage information was appropriate, and  dismissed Jallad’s bad faith claims with prejudice.

Jallad v. Progressive Advanced Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 202999

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Bad Faith Cannot Be Presumed In UIM Claim, Federal Judge Rules

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PHILADELPHIA, Nov. 17 – A federal judge in Pennsylvania has dismissed a bad faith claim against State Farm Insurance arising out of the handling of a UIM claim, ruling that neither the passage of time or the non-payment of the claim in themselves can establish a prima facie case of insurer bad faith under the Pennsylvania Bad Faith Statute.

In Sherman v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190363, Judge Mark A. Kearney ruled that the Plaintiffs had not plausibly set forth a bad faith claim against State Farm arising out of a January 2013 auto accident involving Edward Sherman.  After settling with the tortfeasor following the accident,  the Shermans notified State Farm of their intent to pursue a UIM claim u nder their own auto policy in February 2015. 

The complaint alleged that State Farm investigated the claim between Febryary and July of 2015 but that State Farm failed to make any offer of payment.  After the Shermans sued State Farm in 2017, State Farm moved to dismiss statutory and common law bad faith claims  from the complaint.  In granting the motion to dismiss, Judge Kearney wrote:

“After July 1, 2015, we have no idea what happened. As of July 1, 2015, the parties were working together to address the Shermans’ UIM claim. Over two years later on September 27, 2017, the Shermans sued State Farm claiming it never provided the Shermans with UIM benefits…

Our court of appeals has consistently dismissed Section 8371 claims when the complaint lacks factual allegations of bad faith conduct, and only states conclusory allegations…

[The] Shermans allege communications evidencing responsive insurer conduct and then conclude, simply because they have not been paid since, State Farm is liable for bad faith. We have a gap of over two years with no allegation as to what happened. Bad faith is not presumed simply from a conclusory allegation  of no payment. In conclusory fashion, the Shermans allege State Farm failed to make an informed decision regarding their claims, failed to pursue a diligent investigation, and failed to act in good faith.  They also allege State Farm failed to make a settlement offer, and these actions were intentional, taken in bad faith, and aimed solely at reducing State Farm’s expenditures. These are the types of conclusory allegations which do not suffice. Failing to plead explanations or descriptions of what an insurer actually did, or why they did it, is fatal to a bad faith claim.  We cannot measure the reasonableness of the insurer’s conduct absent facts. Legal conclusions are insufficient.”

Judge Kearney also dismissed the Plaintiff’s Breach of Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing claims, and further  ruled that the Plaintiffs could not plead or recover attorneys’ fees on the remaining Breach of Contract claim.

Sherman v. State Farm Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 190363 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 17, 2017)(Kearney, J.)

The Montana Supreme Court Just Made It Much Harder For Insurers To Litigate The Value of UM/UIM Claims

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HELENA, Oct. 24 – While disclaiming it was creating a new concept of insurer bad faith in the state, the Supreme Court of Montana just announced a bright line rule in first party UM/UIM litigation that discourages insurers from contesting in good faith the value of an insured’s injury, and rolls back the American Rule which requires that each litigant bear his or her own attorneys fees.

In Mlekush v. Farmers Ins. Exchange, 2017 MT 256, a unanimous Montana Supreme Court held that an insurer contesting an insured’s claim for UM/UIM dollars must reimburse the insured for attorneys fees if the insured goes to trial and recovers an amount in excess of the insurer’s last offer.  Justice Michael A. Wheat wrote for a unanimous court:

“[w]e hold that, when a first-party insured is compelled to pursue litigation and a jury returns a verdict in excess of the insurer’s last offer to settle an underinsured motorist claim, the insurer must pay the first-party insured’s attorney fees in an amount subsequently determined by the district court to be reasonable.   To be clear, if a first-party insured goes to trial and obtains a verdict in excess of the insurer’s last offer, this constitutes prima facie proof that the insured was forced to assume the burden of legal action to obtain the full benefit of the policy, thus obviating the need for an inquiry as to whether or not the insurance exception applies. However, in cases in which the policy limits are tendered prior to a verdict being returned, the district court may consider the entirety of the litigation to determine ‘whether, and to what extent, [the] insured was forced to assume the burden of legal action in order to recover the full benefits of the insurance contract.'”

Mlekush v. Farmers Ins. Exch., 2017 MT 256 (Oct. 24, 2017)(Wheat, J.)

Editor’s Note:   While the Court took steps to walk back from any suggestion it was creating new bad faith law, the opinion essentially creates  a rule of strict bad faith liability for any insurer who takes a UIM claim to trial and the jury awards more than the insurer’s offer.  The opinion is wholly  silent, of course on whether an insurer is entitled to recoup attorneys fees from the insured if the jury awards an amount less than the insurer’s last offer, and despite the symmetry of it,  it is probably not reasonable to assume such a corollary would ever be endorsed by the Court.  

 

October Bad Faith Case Roundup

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Discovery

Claims Files / Reserve History

Parisi vs. State Farm, 2017 US Dist. LEX, 162161 (Western District of PA, Oct. 2, 2017) (Gibson, J.)Court ordered in camera inspection of State Farm’s claims file including portion of the file designated “free-form attorney” to make determination of whether or not information contained is protected by the attorney-client privilege or attorney work-product doctrine.   Court also held reserve history of claim is discoverable.

Pleadings

Adequately Pleading Bad Faith/Handling UIM Claim

Thomas vs. Protective Insurance Company, 2017 US Dist. LEX 166955 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 10, 2017) (Caputo, J.) – The Court denied Protective’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint pursuant to F.R.Civ. P. 12(b)(6) finding that Plaintiff sufficiently stated bad faith cause of action when making specific averments concerning insurer’s conduct of handling UIM claim.  Plaintiff specifically alleged Protective’s failure to investigate, failure to communicate, failure to evaluate, and misrepresentation to the insured as well as violation of Pennsylvania Insurance Department regulations.

Irving vs. State Farm, 2017 US Dist. LEXIS 164390 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 2017) (Slomsky, J.) – Court granted State Farm’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s bad faith claims pursuant to F.R.Civ.P 12(b)(6).   Disagreement over the value of the UIM claim, without more, does not constitute bad faith.   Plaintiff granted leave to attempt to amend Complaint to state bad faith cause of action.

 

Summary Judgment

Defense and Indemnity Provided To Insured

State Auto Property vs. Stucky, 2017 W.V. LEXIS 759 (Oct. 10, 2017) (Ketchum, J.) West Virginia Supreme Court held that Plaintiff failed to state a bad faith claim as a matter of law where it was provided defense and indemnity in an underlying trespass suit.   Court observed that State Auto provided the insured, CMD, with a defense and settled the underlying tort suit for $325,000, well within the insured’s $1 million dollar policy limit.
Delays Processing UIM Claim,  Collection of Records,  Investigation

Radolfi vs. State Farm, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS, 165013 (M.D. Pa., Oct. 5, 2017) (Carlson, J.) – Court grants summary judgment in favor of State Farm in UIM claim,  holding no inference from which a finding of bad faith could be made.   The Court observed that while there were delays in processing the claim, including the collection and review of medical records, the delays were not attributable to State Farm.  The Court found that State Farm’s request to the Plaintiff’s attorney for medical records were not complied with, including requests for updated medical records.  The Court held that Plaintiff also failed to provide employment records despite making a claim for wage loss.  The Court also held that a new contractual bad faith cause of action was barred by the law of the case, in that it had previously dismissed a statutory bad faith claim, and that State Farm’s initial error in stating coverage limits to the insured did not constitute bad faith.

Federal Judge Denies Bifurcation of Bad Faith / UIM Claims

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WILLIAMSPORT, Sept. 20  — A Pennsylvania federal has refused GEICO’s motion to sever and stay bad faith claim after finding that judicial economy would not be served, and that no prejudice would occur to GEICO if the bad faith and UIM claims were tried together.

In David Newhouse et al. v. GEICO Casualty Co., No. 17-477, M.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150793, U.S. Middle District of Pa. Judge Matthew Brann denied GEICO’s request to bifurcate the case, which was originally filed in state court, but removed by GEICO to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

On March 16, 2015, GEICO insured David Newhouse was operating a rental car when he was struck from behind by a car driven by Joseph Haywood.  As a result of the accident, Newhouse alleged he  suffered a number of injuries. Haywood’s liability  insurer tendered his $15,000 limit of his insurance policy to Newhouse.  The policy Newhouse had with GEICO provided $100,000.00 in UIM coverage, stacked for two vehicles, for a total of  $200,000 in UIM benefits.

After the Haywood tender, Newhouse  demanded the $200,000.00 policy limit he had with GEICO.  GEICO responded with an offer of  $10,000,  after which Newhouse filed suit for breach of contract and bad faith.

Judge Brann rejected GEICO’s argument that the breach of contract and  bad faith claims were “wholly distinct” from one another and severing the claims would promote judicial economy:

 

“Newhouse’s bad faith claim is based on GEICO offering $10,000.00 as the UIM settlement amount and failing ‘to act with reasonable promptness in evaluating and responding’ to Newhouse’s demand.  While the two claims are grounded on similar findings of evidence, they are nevertheless separate claims.  Thus, litigation on the bad faith claim is not contingent upon success of the breach of contract claim. . .  For example, documents concerning how Newhouse’s insurance claim was handled, documents reflecting the claims adjuster’s determination, and how GEICO arrived at its settlement value would be relevant for both claims.  Contrary to GEICO’s contention, bifurcating these claims and consequently requiring two separate discovery processes would be a waste of both judicial resources and time.”

Judge Brann also determined that GEICO would not be prejudiced by denial of the motion to bifurcate, sever, and stay.

David Newhouse et al. v. GEICO Casualty Co., No. 17-477, M.D. Pa., 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 150793

UM/UIM Plaintiff Fails to State Bad Faith Claim, Federal Judge Rules

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Philadelphia, Sept. 6 – A Pennsylvania federal judge has ruled that a UM/UIM insured has failed to state a bad faith claim against State Farm Insurance arising out of the handling of her UIM claim.  In Myers v.  State Farm Automobile Insurance Company, federal judge R. Barclay Surrick granted State Farm’s 12(b)(6) motion to the complaint, but granted the insured plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint.

The insured filed a UIM claim with her insurer after sustaining injuries in an auto accident.  After failing to reach agreement on the settlement of her UIM claim, the insured filed breach of contract and bad faith claims against State Farm in Philadelphia County Common Pleas Court.   In the complaint, the insured alleged State Farm’s failure to act with reasonable promptness or to act with reasonable fairness, as well as the failure to conduct a proper investigation.

State Farm removed the action to the Eastern District of Pa., and filed a motion to dismiss  the bad faith claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).  Judge Surrick, in granting the motion, observed that “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, [the insured’s] complaint must include factual allegations from which the Court may plausibly infer the unreasonable and intentional or reckless denial of benefits.”  The judge found the plaintiff’s allegations to be conclusory at best, observing that the complaint failed to describe the ways and means in which the insurer allegedly failed to properly investigate her claim.  The complaint also, Judge Surrick observed, failed to cite to any specific transactions or contact between the insured and the insurer which would factually make out a bad faith claim.

The Court concluded that even if it took the averments  the insured’s complaint as true, it was unable to  “plausibly infer from those facts that [insurer] acted unreasonably and intentionally or recklessly in denying benefits to [the insured].”  The Plaintiff was granted leave to attempt to amend her complaint to allege sufficient factual support for her bad faith claims.

Myers v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co.,  No. 17-3509, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143794 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 6, 2017) (Surrick, J.)

Judge Rules No Bad Faith In Insurer’s Low But Reasonable Valuation of UM/UIM Claim

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PHILADELPHIA, Aug. 17 – A Pennsylvania state court judge has granted summary judgment in favor of Travco Insurance Company, ruling that a $25,000.00 offer in a UIM claim which later ended in a $45,000.00 arbitration award was not so unreasonably low as to constitute bad faith.

In Boleslavksy v. Travco Insurance Co., Travco offered its insured $25,000.00 to settle a UIM claim in response to the insured’s  policy limits demand of $50,000.00.  After reviewing some additional information on the claim, Travco increased the valuation of the claim to $28,000.00 but did not change it’s offer in light of the policy limits demand.

The UIM case went to arbitration where the insured won an award of $45,000.00.  The insured thereafter  filed sued Travco for bad faith in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, arguing first  that insurer’s final settlement offer of $25,000 was inadequately low in light of the ultimate arbitration award, and second that Travco never notified the insured of the valuation increase.

Travco filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that its offer and claims conduct were reasonable as a matter of law.  The Court agreed with the insurer, granted the motion and found Travco’s offer to be low but reasonable, and therefore not in bad faith.  The Court also found that Travco continued to reasonably evaluate information concerning the claim, and that offers of settlement which were made in the context of that information were not without basis.

Finally, the court ruled Travco had no obligation to increase its offer to $28,000.00 because the insured had unambiguously hewed to a policy limits demand, signaling no desire to negotiate.

Boleslavksy v. Travco Insurance Co., No. 151000886, 2017 Phila. Ct. Com. Pl. LEXIS 257 (Phila. C.C.P. Aug. 17, 2017) (Anders, J.)