Alternative Fee Spotlight: Fixed Fee Coverage Opinions and Bad Faith Claims Audits

legal-opinions

Within legal departments today, the most common barriers to obtaining knowledgeable outside counsel for non-litigated matters are cost and uncertainty.   Outside counsel is seen nowdays as an expense which must be scrutinized, limited and reduced.  But there are ways to enjoy the benefit of the independent, objective opinion of outside counsel without worrying that doing so is an unnecessary extravagance, or yet another trip down the black hole of a running meter.

The truth is that most non-litigated matters handled for insurance company legal departments don’t need to be handled  via hourly rate.  Costing such projects is easy and predictable.  And the legal marketplace no longer operates under a single, monolithic pricing model.  Good lawyers are available for reasonable, flexible, affordable fees.

Coverage opinions and claims file audits can be performed by experienced outside counsel via fixed fee, quoted arrangements.  A legal department can get the benefit of a coverage opinion or claims file review for a low, fixed sum, quoted after only a brief review of the scope of the matter.  This small investment in an outside opinion can save an insurer many multiples of the fixed fee cost in coverage or extra-contractual exposure later on.    There are even more savings available with volume discounts or “block” fee quoting for multiple non-litigated  matters.  The options are virtually endless.

Traditionally, the return on investment which a coverage opinion or claims file audit brought was not sufficiently predictable:  the hourly rate arrangement made the initial investment in an outside opinion unclear, and therefore made the benefit hard to measure.  Under a fixed-fee arrangement, six and seven figure exposures can be identified and prevented with small four figure investments.

For more information on providing your legal department the large investment return on fixed fee coverage opinions and claims file audits, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

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Insured’s Failure To Cooperate During Time Limit Demand Leads To Bad Faith Dismissal

Florida, Jan. 19.  A Federal District Judge in Florida has granted summary judgment in favor of Titan Insurance Co. in a bad faith case, finding that the insured’s lack of responsiveness during a time limits settlement demand precluded the case from proceeding further.

In Hinson v. Titan Ins. Co., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121666 (N.D. Fla. 2015), Chief Judge M. Casey Rodgers dismissed a third party bad faith suit arising out of an excess verdict against Titan’s insured, Hinson.  During an underlying personal injury case against Hinson, the plaintiff’s lawyer issued a 20 day settlement demand for policy limits, requiring among other things an affidavit from Hinson as to any other applicable insurance.

Titan’s claims personnel made multiple attempts to alert Hinson, including the hand delivery of a draft affidavit to his address, in an effort to comply with the terms of the time limits demand.  Chief Judge Rodgers wrote:

Hinson failed to timely return the required affidavit to meet the [terms of the time limit] demand…The totality of the circumstances demonstrate that Titan diligently pursued a settlement; advised Hinson of the risks of an excess judgment, of settlement opportunities, and the probable outcome of the litigation; and tendered checks on more than one occasion.

Hinson at 15-16.

The Court found that the failure to meet the conditions of the 20 day time limit demand were therefore attributable to the insured, not Titan, and entered judgment for Titan.

The Court also found that Titan’s refusal to agree to try the bad faith claim before the personal injury action and pay the limits to the personal injury plaintiff  if the insurer prevailed in the bad faith case (known in Florida as a “Cunningham agreement”) was not bad faith as a matter of law.

Takeaway:  There is nothing new under the sun here, although the case is a perfect illustration of two key components of dealing with time limit personal injury settlement demands: 1.) claims staff must make Herculean efforts to act  on the insured’s behalf within the demand window, and before it is too late; and 2.) those efforts must be re-traceable in a well-d0cumented claims file.  For additional information on defensive handling of time limit settlement demands, reach me at chaddick@dmclaw.com or 717-731-4800.

Hinson v. Titan Ins. Co., 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121666 (N.D. Fla. 2015),