The California Court of Appeals recently held that an excess judgment was not a necessary element to an equitable subrogation claim brought by an excess insurer against a primary insurer when the primary insurer failed to settle the underlying case. In ACE American Ins. Co. v. Fireman's Fund, 2 Cal.App.5th 159, 206 Cal.Rptr.3d 176 (2d Dist. 2016), the Court held that the excess insurer could sue the underlying primary insurer for bad faith failure to settle under equitable contribution when the excess insurer contributed to a settlement of the claim against its insured. In this case, the Court held that the absence of a litigated judgment did not preclude the excess insurer from establishing the damages element of a claim for bad faith failure to settle under an equitable subrogation theory. The Court held that an excess insurer, when faced with a primary insurer's unreasonable refusal to pay a settlement demand within policy limits could contribute to the settlement on behalf of its insured and then sue the primary insurer to recover the amount of the settlement.
In RSUI Indemnity Co. v. Discovery P&C Ins. Co., 649 Fed.Appx. 534 (9th Cir. 2016), the primary insurer unreasonably had refused to pay a settlement demand within policy limits. In order to achieve a settlement, the excess insurer paid a portion of the settlement within its policy limits. The question before the Court was whether an excess insurance company could contribute to the settlement on behalf of the insured, and then sue the primary insurer to recover the amount of the settlement under the theory of equitable subrogation. The Ninth Circuit answered that question in the affirmative.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bamford, Inc. v. Regent Ins. Co., 822 F.3d 403 (8th Cir. 2016), held that the District Court had properly denied an insurance company's post-verdict motions challenging the jury's verdict in a bad faith failure to settle case and the evidence demonstrated that the insurer had failed to re-evaluate its settlement position after a trial court ruling in the underlying case eliminated a key affirmative defense. The Eighth Circuit Court noted that the insurance company's evidence that it had made multiple efforts to settle the case based on its evaluation of the case, continuously increased its reserves and offers in the settlement process, had followed the advice and valuations of the case of outside counsel as well as two mediators, and had discussed the claim value in multiple roundtable meetings with senior management was nevertheless insufficient to establish that the insurance company acted in good faith as a matter of law because the insurance company did not factor into its evaluation the trial court's elimination of a key affirmative defense.
In a fact intensive decision, the United States Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in Bamford, Inc. v. Regent Ins. Co., 822 F.3d 403 (8th Cir. 2016), held that a fact question existed as to the insurance company's failure to settle a claim notwithstanding that the insurance company relied upon multiple efforts to settle, continuously increased its reserves and offers in the settlement process, followed the advice and valuations of two outside counsel and two mediators, discussed the claim value in roundtable meetings with senior management, and reasonably relied upon the state of Nebraska's reputation as a conservative jury verdict jurisdiction. The trial court had entered a ruling eliminating a key defense which the Eighth Circuit observed required the insurance company to drastically re-evaluate its position which it did not do notwithstanding its previous efforts to evaluate the claim fairly. While interesting on its facts, the Bamford case is so fact-intensive that it provides no procedural value in terms of black letter law. However, it is an interesting case to read because of all the efforts engaged in by the insurance company to try and fairly evaluate the case value which were all for naught when the trial court entered a ruling on one of several defenses.