Yearly Archives: 2016

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Posted in Bad Faith

WHOSE SETTLEMENT IS IT, ANYWAY? NEGOTIATING CONSISTENT WITH AN INSURER’S STRONG COVERAGE DEFENSES

This author suggested, in an earlier May 2016 Bad Faith blog article, that an insurer can measure on a “strength scale” its insurance coverage defenses while it defends its insured against underlying claims and lawsuits under a reservation of rights. The “strength scale” of coverage defenses, especially when subject to ongoing updates, can become a useful decision-making tool during settlement negotiations. An insurer has a legitimate basis to assess its coverage defenses as part of the settlement process when the coverage issues may render it unclear whose money will be used to pay for a judgment or settlement: the insurer’s money, the insured’s money, or combined contributions of both. “Bad faith” case law can be scarce, in many jurisdictions, regarding

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First Circuit Provides Guidance as to When a Notice of Claim Triggers Policy Obligations

When does receipt of a pre-suit claim notice letter trigger an insurance carrier’s obligation to provide a defense and/or indemnity? In Sanders v. Phoenix Insurance Co., the First Circuit provided some guidance to this question, holding that a pre-suit notice letter would not trigger a carrier’s obligations unless a non-response would impact the policyholder’s ability to contest liability during a following proceeding. The Underlying Dispute Sanders arises from a “tragic tale of unrequited love.” Ms. Anderson hired an attorney to represent her in a divorce proceeding from Mr. Sanders, her husband. During the course of that representation, Ms. Anderson and her attorney began an affair. Ms. Anderson suffered from depression and anxiety. When the affair cooled, Ms. Anderson wrote a

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Don’t Get Burned by a “Holt Demand” in Georgia

Georgia has a very specific law called “Holt demands” concerning time-limited demands made against a liability insurance policy. In Southern General Ins. Co. v. Holt, 262 Ga. 267, 416 S.E.2d 274 (1992), the Georgia Supreme Court held that where the insurer has full knowledge of the insured’s liability and damages exceeding policy limits, the insurer can be subject to bad faith damages if its failure to settle within policy limits subjects the insured to a judgment in excess of those limits. In deciding whether to settle a claim within policy limits, the insurer must give equal consideration to the interests of the insured. The Holt demand was later codified in a statute addressing only motor vehicle claims, at O.C.G.A. Section

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Insuring Fine Art: The Visual Artists Rights Act and Its Bad Faith Implications

Insuring fine art can present challenges that are not encountered with other types of property. One of these challenges involves the application of the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (17 U.S.C. §106A) (“VARA”) when artwork by a living artist is damaged.   VARA protects an artist’s “moral” rights in his/her work of art beyond traditional property law – in other words, even after a piece of art is sold, the artist retains certain rights to make sure that the artwork is not impermissibly modified. VARA provides the author of a “work of visual art” the right to “prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and

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Nickerson Redux: Five Lessons On Punitive Damages For Bad Faith Attorneys

This past June the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Company, 63 Cal.4th 363 (2016), holding that post-trial Brandt fees could be included in the damage calculus for purposes of evaluating the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages. We wrote about this decision in an earlier blog. The Supreme Court remanded the $19 million punitive verdict to the Court of Appeals to amend the judgment to correct the maximum allowable amount of punitive damages of 10:1, or $475,000. In doing so, the Court of Appeals reissued its original decision. This decision has a number of issues that may guide insurance counsel in handling bad faith cases with a punitive exposure. The policy involved

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Ninth Circuit Finds Plausible Claim of Damages Avoids Dismissal of Bad Faith Lawsuit

Can an insurer be potentially liable for breach of contract or bad faith where the insured can only plead a plausible claim of damages? The Ninth Circuit has answered “yes” in a recent decision in the case of Beverly Burton v. The Prudential Insurance Company of America, No. 14-56721, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 18617 (9th Cir. October 18, 2016). The Court held that the lower district court erred in dismissing a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing where the Plaintiff has plausibly alleged that she incurred an economic loss, but where the relevant facts are known only to the carrier. In Burton, the Plaintiff asserted that Prudential failed to calculate interest on her son’s

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Cumis Counsel: An Insurer’s Right To Dispute Coverage Does Not Automatically Trigger A Right to Cumis Counsel

Recently, once again, a California appeals court weighed in on the scope of the right to Cumis counsel and the meaning of Cal. Civil Code §2860. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Company v. McMillin Homes Construction, Inc., No. 15cv1548 JM (BLM), 2016 WL 5464553 (S.D. Cal.) (decided on September 29, 2016).[1] The Cumis decision holds when a conflict of interest exists between an insurer and its insured arising out of possible non-coverage under the insurer’s policy, the insurer is obligated to offer independent counsel to the insured, which is to be paid for by the insurer. The classic example of an asserted conflict of interest, giving rise to a demand by an insured for independent counsel, is a complaint alleging the

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Rescission: An Underutilized Tool

The rescission of an insurance policy is one of the most underutilized tools in handling insurance claims. If used properly, it unwinds the insurance transaction and the parties are restored to their position prior to the contract; it is as if the insurance contract never existed. Although rescission is primarily an equitable device, its use and scope is authorized by many state statutes. In situations where the insured has made material misrepresentations or fraudulently applied for a policy, it shields the insurer from unwarranted claims and unjust liability. There are three types of state statutes regarding rescission: (1) states that allow rescission based on material misrepresentation; (2) states that limit rescission to a knowing or reckless misrepresentation; and (3) states

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Production of Insurance Company Claim Files In Bad Faith Litigation: Three Years After Cedell, Where Are We?

Bad faith litigation is complex and costly. In these types of cases, the discovery process often sets the initial tone of the lawsuit and the request for production of the insurer’s claim file is automatic. Typically, the insurer’s response is to produce a heavily redacted copy of its claim file, including a privilege log that cites the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine as the bases for the redactions and withholdings. In response, the insured files a motion to compel, claiming that the attorney-client and work product privileges do not apply in bad faith litigation. The courts are left to decide if the insurer is required to produce a full and un-redacted copy of its claim files. Under Federal Rule

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Posted in Bad Faith
Avoiding Insurance Bad Faith
Cozen O’Connor represents insurance clients in jurisdictions throughout the U.S. against statutory and common law first- and third-party extracontractual claims for actual and consequential damages, penalties, punitive and exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees and costs, and coverage payments. Whether bad faith claims are addenda to a broader coverage matter or are central to the complaint, Cozen O’Connor attorneys know how to efficiently respond to extracontractual causes of action. More
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