Steven Plitt, Expert Witness Steven Plitt, Expert Witness
Insurance Bad Faith Claim Handling Expert Serving Clients Nationwide

Phoenix Insurance Law Blog

Covenant Judgment Settlements In Washington Do Not Automatically Constitute A Waiver Of Attorney-Client Privilege And Work Product Protection When The Insured's Claims For Bad Faith Against The Insurer Are Assigned To The Adverse Party

In Steel v. Philadelphia Indemnity Co., 381 P.3d 111 (2016), a daycare center employee was convicted of child rape and child molestation while working at a daycare center. The parents brought a negligence action against the center. The daycare center had $1 million in coverage. Plaintiffs offered to settle for $4 million, which was rejected by Philadelphia. As trial approached, the insureds entered into a $25 million covenant judgment settlement with the plaintiffs. As part of the settlement the insureds received a covenant not to execute and the plaintiffs received an assignment of the insured's bad faith claims.

Timely Offering Policy Limits Does Not Immunize Insurer From Bad Faith Exposure

The California Supreme Court in Barickman v. Mercury Casualty Co., 2 Cal. App. 5th 508 (2nd Dist. 2016) held that the insurance carrier was liable for bad faith failure to settle, notwithstanding the fact that the carrier offered its policy limits to the claimants in a timely manner in exchange for a full release of civil liability. The court found that the insurer's failure to do "all within its power to effect a settlement" could constitute bad faith, notwithstanding the fact that the insurance company offered its policy limits to the injured claimants in exchange for a full release of liability. The insurance company had refused to consent to additional language in the release designed to preserve the claimant's rights to receive criminal restitution from the insured tortfeasor.

7th Circuit Finds that Extrinsic Evidence is Admissible in a Declaratory Judgment Action to Determine the Carrier's Duty to Defend

In Landmark American Insurance Co. v. Hilger, 838 F.3d 821 (7th Cir. 2016) the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit found that the insurance company was allowed to offer evidence outside the underlying court complaints and that the defendant did not render the professional services in question as an independent contractor. In this case the insured was sued by two credit unions in two different states (Michigan and Tennessee) for allegedly joining with a life insurance agent and a life insurance broker to persuade the credit unions to fund loans based upon life insurance policies with an overstated value that was used as collateral. When the insured and the insurance agent were sued, they tendered their defense to Landmark American under the agent's and the broker's liability policy. The policy provided coverage for claims arising out of any negligent act, error, or omission committed in the agent's rendering of professional services as an agent or broker. However, the tenders were denied.

California Court of Appeals Fixes Punitive Damage Ratio and Bad Faith Cases

Historically the United States Supreme Court has admonished trial courts with the high court's observation that "few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process." State Farm Mut Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 424 (2003). The California Supreme Court has taken a different view of what the proper ratio of punitive to compensatory damages should be. In Simon v. Sao Paolo U.S. Holding, Inc.. 35 Cal. 4th 1159 (2005) the California Supreme Court upheld a ten-to-one ratio. The California Supreme Court observed that the one-to-one ratio of the Campbell decision would not be applied, with the court suggesting that a ratio of nine or ten-to-one would be the point in California where a punitive damage award became constitutionally suspect and required special justification. Simon, 35 Cal. 4th at 1182.


The Missouri Supreme Court in Swadley v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 513 S.W.3d 355 (Mo. 2017) held that UIM coverage did not apply when the underinsured motorist had liability coverage limits greater than the insured's underinsured motorist limits. Previously, the Missouri Court of Appeals had explained the purpose of UIM coverage. "The purpose of underinsured motorist coverage is to provide insurance coverage for insureds who have been bodily injured by a negligent motorist whose own automobile liability insurance coverage is insufficient to pay for the injured person's actual damages." Wasson v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., 358 S.W. 3d 113, 117 (Mo. App. 2011).


The Mississippi Supreme Court in Rylee v. Progressive Gulf Insurance Co., 2017 WL 949545 (Miss. Mar. 9, 2017) found that a UIM policy's "each person" limit applied not only to a husband's bodily injury claim, but also to the wife's loss of consortium claim, i.e., loss of consortium claims are part of the "each person" limit and are not afforded a separate "each person" limit. The court noted that on two separate prior occasions, the court had interpreted similar policy language and reached the same conclusion that to recover more than the "each person" limit for one person, there must be more than one person who sustained bodily injury during the accident. Citing State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co. v. Acosta, 479 S.2d 1089, 1090‑91 (1985) and Old Sec. Cas. Insurance v. Clemmer, 455 S.2d 781, 782 (Miss. 1984). Because the wife in the case at bar was not with her husband during the crash, her husband was the only person who sustained bodily injury in the accident. Therefore, the wife's loss of consortium claim fell under the "each person" policy limit available to the husband. The court also noted that the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals relied upon the Acosta decision when it rejected a similar claim. See, Reed v. State Farm Mutual Insurance, 784 F.2d 577, 578-79 (5th Cir. 1986).


The California Court of Appeals (2nd District) in Stein v. Axis Insurance Co., 10 Cal. App. 5th, 673, 216 Cal.Rptr.3d 804 (2nd Dist. 2017) held that a provision in a D&O policy requiring the insured to repay defense expenses unless there was a "final adjudication" determining that the insured committed willful misconduct did not eliminate coverage for defense expenses incurred during the insured's appeal of the criminal fraud conviction.

At issue in this case was a wrongful misconduct exclusion which provided in relevant part that "except for defense expenses, the insurer shall not pay loss in connection with any claim" occasioned by willful misconduct. As is typical of this type of exclusion, the exclusion was triggered "only if there has been . . . a final adjudication adverse to [the] insured person in the underlying action . . . establishing that the insured person" committed the wrongful misconduct. The policy also contained a reimbursement provision that required the insured to repay the insurer's defense expenses if it was ultimately determined that the exclusion applied, i.e., after a "final adjudication."

Rhode Island Supreme Court Adopts When the Insured Receives Notification of Policy Updates or Renewal Notices Reflecting the Error

Recently, the Rhode Island Supreme Court in Faber v. McVay, 155 A.3d 153 (R.I. 2017), the court held that Rhode Island's three-year statute of limitations against an insurance agent began to run when the insured received an update of the changes made to his policy after the insured changed carriers and also began to run when the insured received notice of renewal of the policies after the agent or agency informed him that his policies would be reviewed.

In this case, the plaintiffs were Charles Faber, M.D. and his wife. The insurance agent was Francine McVay and various insurance agencies. From 1998 until her retirement in 2005, McVay was Dr. Faber's insurance agent. Throughout the insurance relationship, Dr. Faber expressed a desire to obtain the best and maximum insurance coverage. From October 2002 to October 2003 Dr. Faber's automobile insurance was written with Vigilant Insurance Company and included $5,000,000.00 of UIM coverage. In late 2002, Dr. Faber inquired with McVay as to whether a different carrier could provide the same coverage for a reduced premium. It was alleged that McVay reported to Dr. Faber that he could obtain the same coverage and lower his premium payments by contracting with Progressive for $250,000.00 in UM coverage and with Vigilant for an umbrella policy of $5,000,000.00, which included UIM coverage within its coverage. There was a dispute regarding what actually took place, however. McVay testified that she informed Dr. Faber that the policies were different and that they would "come back and bite him in the ass." Nevertheless, Dr. Faber directed McVay to make the change, which reduced his premium by $4,951.00. Unfortunately, the umbrella policy with Vigilant, while providing $5,000,000.00 in excess liability coverage, did not include UM protection. Dr. Faber was, thereafter, sent notices of these changes, which included succinct summaries of the coverages. It was undisputed that he failed to read the coverage update. Over the years he received notices that detailed his automobile insurance coverage, usually after he added or removed vehicles from the policies. Dr. Faber testified that he did not read those notices, but filed them in a drawer because he relied on McVay's insurance expertise. Dr. Faber assumed that his automobile policies provided maximum coverage for UM.


In Burnett v. GEICO, 389 P.3d 27 (2017) the Alaska Supreme Court, as a matter of first impression, held that a liability insurer can owe a tort duty to a third-party claimant when the insurer's claims handling actions affirmatively create a new and independent duty to the claimant. In Burnett, GEICO's insured crashed into a cabin which caused, in part, a fuel leak. The fuel leak was required to be remediated environmentally in accordance with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) standards. GEICO hired a contractor to perform an environmental site assessment and to coordinate the necessary clean-up of the spill. However, GEICO delayed in the remediation effort. As a result, the fuel spill spread underneath the cabin itself. Because of this, the cabin owner sued not only the GEICO insured for the accident, but also GEICO for its negligent activities in timely cleaning up the environmental spill.


The Colorado Court of Appeals in Nybert v. GEICO Casualty Co., 2017 WL 710504 (Colo. Ct. App. February 23, 2017) issued two significant rulings regarding Colorado's Unreasonable Delay Statute, Section 10-3-1116. In the first ruling, the Court held that the trial court was permitted under the statute to award the insured twice the amount of the delayed benefit in addition to the actual policy benefit that was delayed. In the second opinion, the Court found that an award of statutory attorney's fees to the insured could be made without regard to the period from when the benefit was first delayed to the date when it was actually paid and without regard to whether the fee award concerned a contractual claim.

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