District Court of Appeal Rules in Favor of Insurance Company In Car Accident Bad Faith Case

Obtaining the damages available in a personal injury lawsuit often goes beyond holding the at-fault party accountable. In car accident cases, the insurers to the parties in the accident must abide by certain duties while handling the case. If an insurer does not attempt to settle in good faith, the insured may file an action against the insurer.  Often, if the insured is the at-fault party in the original car accident, she or he will assign the claim to the injured party. This all takes place after the original car accident litigation has occurred.

In a recent case (No.4D15-4724), the insured party was in a car accident with another man who died as a result of his injuries. The insured party had a $100,000 liability policy under his name and his business’ name. After the accident, the claim was promptly assigned to a claims adjuster. The insurer also advised the insured that the claim by the decedent’s estate could exceed his policy limits and that he had the right to hire his own attorney, which the insured chose to do.

The decedent’s estate’s representative called the claims adjuster to arrange for a statement with the insured about his personal and business assets and whether he was working when the accident occurred. The representative later claimed that the adjuster refused to make the insured available for the statement, but the claims adjuster responded that she would not have refused the request. No deadline was given by the decedent’s estate to make the insured available for a statement, and the representative did not advise that the statement must happen prior to settling the claim.

The insured offered the full amount of liability to the decedent’s estate, without prompting. The estate raised the issue that the statement had not been taken from the insured. The claims adjuster contacted the attorney for the estate, who reiterated the prior request but again failed to provide a deadline. The adjuster testified that she passed along the request to the insured and provided an affidavit with blanks to the insured to fill out. The insured stated that he provided this information to his attorney, but ultimately the form never was filled out and returned to the estate.

The estate eventually filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the insured and returned the offered settlement check to the insurance company. At the trial for the car accident, the estate received an $8.47 million judgment against the insured for wrongful death. The bad faith claim was filed soon after by the insured. During the bad faith claim, the insured admitted that he knew about the request for a statement prior to the trial, but he failed to explain why he was unable to complete it. The estate’s attorney stated it would have delayed the wrongful death case, especially if he had known that only $85,000 in assets was available. The insurer also provided evidence that the adjuster struggled with her workload and received negative performance reviews as a result. The insurer moved for a directed verdict, but the insurance company denied the motion. A jury verdict in favor of the insured was returned, and the insurer appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the insurer and looked at case law regarding what constitutes “insufficient evidence,” warranting a directed verdict. The Court of Appeal analyzed all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the insured and concluded that the totality of the evidence did not lend itself to a verdict in favor of the insured. The court found that the insurance company fulfilled its obligation by communicating the estate’s wish to question the insured about his business holdings, as well as the obligation to advise him about the probable outcome and steps to avoid an excess judgment. The court also found that the obligation to attempt to settle was met, meeting all of the requirements an insurer owes an insured under established case law. The jury verdict was set aside and the case remanded to the trial court.

The Florida wrongful death attorneys at Donaldson & Weston have the personal injury experience you need to assist with your car accident case. Call today for a free, confidential consultation at 722-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.