Failure to accept checks tendered is not bad faith

In Berendes v. Geico Casualty Co., the 10th Circuit (Utah) (unpublished) affirmed summary judgment in favor of the defendant insurance company on a bad faith claim.  Plaintiff said the insurance company was in bad faith because there was no offer of policy limits within 30 days. Plaintiff sued the tortfeasor, got an excess judgment, and went after the insurance company.  But the insurer HAD offered policy limits, which were rejected by plaintiff’s counsel as conditional, since the insurer asked for a waiver of subrogation from Plaintiffs insurer and requested information on the hospital lien. Rather, it was the plaintiff’s rejection of the settlement checks which caused undue delay; and those actions did not amount to bad faith by the insurer.  

The assignability of tort claims was raised; and the court also found there was no duty of good faith to a third party claimant.

 

 

No bad faith where delay in payment was requested by insured Oklahoma law

In Porter v. Farmers Insurance Co., (unpublished decision) the insured, Porter was in a one car accident in 2007.  Porter anonymously called in the accident in 2008, and then identified himself and told Farmers about the accident in 2009.  Porter initially claimed he did not recall the circumstances of the accident, but thought it was a one car accident.  Later, he claimed another car was involved which caused the accident.  Before the accident, Porter added the car to his policy.  Porter said he wanted to add it as an additional car, but the agent replaced the truck Porter had insured with the car.  Porter had previously signed a UM waiver on his truck, but did not sign one on the car.  

Farmers decided that UM coverage was imputed as a matter of law and tendered payment.  Porter's lawyer told Farmers to withhold payment while it was determined whether there were any liens on the payment.  Eventually, in October, 2011, payment was made.  Porter sued for breach of contract and bad faith. Summary judgment to Farmers was affirmed by the Tenth Circuit. The trial court held that to the extent UM coverage was imputed by law, Farmers’ payment of the statutory limit entitled it to summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. Denying Mr. Porter’s bad faith claim, the court held that Farmers’ investigation was adequate and its delayed payment was reasonable.

The Tenth Circuit states:


Mr. Porter’s breach of contract claim fails for two reasons. First, Mr. Porter has not offered evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Farmers breached its contractual duties—express or implied. Farmers only has a duty to pay UM coverage where its insured suffers damages due to an uninsured motorist or a hit-and-run. In the event of an accident, “notice must be given to [Farmers] promptly” and must include “the time, place and circumstances of the accident.” The first time Mr. Porter gave notice of his UM claim was August 4, 2009—over two years after the accident. Farmers promptly investigated this allegation but found no evidence of a second driver. . . .It was not until his November 2009 EUO that Mr. Porter first mentioned the other vehicle. Less than seven weeks later, Farmers offered full payment of the UM coverage.  Second, Mr. Porter failed to offer evidence of any damages resulting from the alleged breach. Mr. Porter claimed he was entitled to prejudgment interest on the UM payment.  It was Mr. Porter who initially requested a delay in payment, and the later delays were not the fault of Farmers. Accordingly, it would be improper to hold Farmers liable for delays beyond its control.

As to bad faith, the delay in payment was reasonable while Farmers investigated the claim. Also, there was a legitimate dispute as to whether the accident involved an uninsured motorist.  Farmer's decision to seek counsel did not cause unreasonable delay as stated by Porter's expert, Diane Luther.  "Ms. Luther contends that the retention of counsel and subsequent EUO were unnecessary because Farmers already had the information necessary to decide Mr. Porter’s claim. But this conclusion is simply contrary to the facts viewed against a backdrop of the applicable law, and we need not accept it as true." It was in the EUO that Porter mentioned the other car for the first time.  And, the delay in payment was reasonable, since Porter's attorney requested the delay. 

There was no inadequate investigation.  It is unclear whether additional investigation would have uncovered other facts.  There was no duty to investigate based on the telephone call where Mr. Porter failed to identify himself.

Bad Faith, UM, and Judgment as a matter of Law (Oklahoma law)

In Bannister v. State Farm, Bannister was involved in a one vehicle accident.  Bannister claimed that a car cut off the car in front of him, and the car in front of him slammed on the brakes.  Bannister had to lay his motorcycle down, and was injured.  When State Farm denied the claim, Bannister sued for breach of contract and bad faith.  Later, though, Bannister withdrew his breach of contract claim.  The jury found for Bannister on the bad faith claim and awarded him $350,000 actual and $350,000 punitive damages.  The trial court granted State Farm's judgment as a matter of law, saying there was a reasonable dispute as to whether the accident was Bannister's fault.  The Tenth Circuit affirmed. 

The court noted that Bannister admitted  he was driving under the influence, speeding and following too closely.  These facts reasonably supported a legitimate dispute as to whether Bannister was majority at fault in his accident; and that no evidence suggested that further investigation would have undermined the State Farm’s legitimate basis for disputing the claim.  No other witnesses were found regarding the accident, so the determination was based on the police report and Bannister's own statements. 

On appeal, Bannister asserts that State Farm’s investigation was inadequate.  For example, Bannister argues that “had State Farm taken a recorded statement, it could have and should have asked Bannister whether he was (1) drunk, (2) speeding and/or (3) following too closely.” But Bannister  does not explain how the answers to those questions would have altered the factual basis on which State Farm reasonably disputed coverage. Critically, Bannister’s truthful answers to those questions would have confirmed that his blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit; that he was speeding by 5-10 mph; and that he was following too closely.  All of these show that State Farm had a reasonable basis to deny the claim.

Bannister claimed that because an element of the claim of bad faith is that the insurance company owed but did not pay benefits under the policy, he should be able to keep at least the policy limits of $125,000.  Bannister cited some criminal cases dealing with lesser included offenses.  But the court said that Bannister made a tactical decision to withdraw the breach of contract claim and could not get it in through the back door.  The court states: 

[W]e are unaware of any precedent extending that criminal doctrine to this civil context, such that a forsaken contract claim would be transformed into an independent sub-claim of a separate tort claim, upon which recovery could be independently awarded. We do not interpret the Court of Civil Appeals of Oklahoma’s decision in Cales v. Le Mars Mut. Ins. Co., 69 P.3d 1206 (Okla. Civ. App. 2002), to compel a contrary conclusion. Cales held that a new trial was warranted in light of the trial court’s improper decision to bifurcate the plaintiff’s breach of contract and bad faith claims into separate trials. . . .However, notwithstanding Cales’s “not[ing]” that the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim and bad faith claims comprised “one cause of action,” the actual holding of Cales was that it was improper to bifurcate the consideration of the “two interrelated theories of recovery” when both theories had been asserted. Id. Cales did not hold that a plaintiff could recover under the ‘lesser-included’ theory of breach of contract when he had earlier chosen to abandon that theory.

Because there was a reasonable basis for State Farm's determination that Bannister was mostly at fault for the accident, the trial court's grant of Judgment as a Matter of Law is affirmed.

MSJ affirmed on bad faith investigation claim - Okla law

In Walker v. Progressive, the Tenth Circuit affirmed a summary judgment in favor of the insurer on the plaintiffs’ bad faith claim.  The bad faith claim involved the investigation of the theft loss of plaintiffs’ Tahoe while they were on vacation.  The Tahoe was found later, burned.  Progressive found that the steering column was not damaged, the car was for sale when it was stolen, it was a gas guzzler and plaintiffs had all the keys.  Progressive said these were red flags for fraud, and had its Special Investigation Unit (SIU) investigate the claim.  Plaintiffs were out of town when the theft occurred and Progressive wanted photos of the vacation.  When the photos were received, they appeared altered.  In addition, although the plaintiffs had said there were two keys, a third showed up.  The key and the photos were explained and the claim was paid.  

Plaintiffs’ bad faith claim is founded on the contention that Progressive’s investigation was both “untimely” and “improper,” and does not concern the disagreement between the parties concerning the value of loss or Progressive’s right to conduct a fraud investigation.  The gist was the way Progressive handled the third key and photo issues. Plaintiffs offered no explanation as to how they were damaged by the alleged unreasonable actions of Progressive, which is a required element of the bad faith claim. 

Once Progressive verified that the Walkers were out of town during the date of loss, it authorized
coverage for the claim, even though the origin of the third key remained unresolved. Thus, “it was irrelevant when Progressive determined the origin of the third key because Progressive agreed to pay for the repairs to The Vehicle in November 2008.”  The expert report prepared after the lawsuit was filed and after payment was authorized was irrelevant to the claim at issue – and was prepared in response to the lawsuit itself.