Can an Insurer Escape Bad Faith Liability When it Unreasonably Forces an Insured to Arbitrate an Uninsured Motorist Claim? No Way!

Posted in: Auto Insurance, Bad Faith, Case Updates July 14, 2014

In a very good ruling for policyholders, the California Court of Appeal ruled that an insurance company cannot escape insurance bad faith liability by forcing a claimant to arbitrate his claim without first fairly investigating, evaluating and attempting to resolve the claim.  In Maslo v Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 564, 2014 WL 2918866 (June 27, 2014), the court explained that “[t]here can be no serious dispute that an insurer is required to thoroughly and fairly investigate, process, and evaluate its insured’s claim,” and the failure to do so exposes the insurer to bad faith liability.

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Want to Open Up the Policy Limits on a Policy? Try Making a Section 998 Offer Above Policy Limits and You Just May Be Able to Do It

Posted in: Auto Insurance, Breach of Contract, Duty to Settle, Insurance Bad Faith October 18, 2013

Can a pretrial California Code of Civil Procedure section 998 offer to settle above an insurer’s policy limits result in opening up a policy’s liability limits?  Interestingly, a California Court of Appeal has said “yes” to this question under certain limited circumstances if the offer is reasonable and made in good faith.  In Aguilar v. Gostischef, ___ Cal. App. 4th ___, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 816, 2013 WL 5592976 (Oct. 11, 2013) (“Aguilar”), the California Court of Appeal held that where an injured party rationally believed an insurer may be liable for excess judgment, and the insurer refuses to provide this third-party with the amount of policy limits when requested prior to litigation, a section 998 offer above policy limits may open up the policy to an excess judgment. 

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Alas, A Very Hot Issue in California Insurance Law is Decided (At Least for Now): Insurers Have No Affirmative Duty to Settle as Long as They Do Not Foreclose the Possibility of Settlement and/or Absent a Within-Policy-Limits Settlement Demand

Posted in: Auto Insurance, Breach of Contract, Duty to Settle, Insurance Bad Faith October 18, 2013

One of the hottest issues in California insurance law has been whether a breach of the good faith duty to settle can be found in the absence of a within-policy-limits settlement demand, thus giving rise to an insurer’s liability for an excess judgment.

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The Ninth Circuit Amends Opinion in Du v. Allstate removing policyholder friendly language

Posted in: Auto Insurance, Case Updates, General Liablity, Insurance Bad Faith October 15, 2012

We recently wrote about a policyholder friendly opinion by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that seemingly held that an insurer’s duty of good faith and fair dealing, which is implied in every contract of insurance, may be violated by the insurer’s failure to attempt to effectuate a settlement within policy limits after liability of its insured has become reasonably clear, even without a policy limits settlement demand.  In other words, the court held that a demand within policy limits was not an element of a bad faith failure to settle claim.  The Ninth Circuit, on October 5, 2012, issued an amended opinion deleting this language and leaving open the questions: 1) whether the duty to settle can be breached absent a settlement demand from the third party claimant; and 2) whether the genuine dispute doctrine can be applied in third-party cases. 

 

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Bad Faith Liability May Be Premised on an Insurer's Failure to Effectuate Settlement When Insured's Liability Was Reasonably Clear

Posted in: Assignment of Claim, Auto Insurance, Case Updates, General Liablity, Insurance Bad Faith June 20, 2012

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in a recent decision held that an insurer’s duty of good faith and fair dealing, which is implied in every contract of insurance, may be violated by the insurer’s failure to attempt to effectuate a settlement within policy limits after liability of its insured has become reasonably clear.  In essence, the Court found that an insurer’s unreasonable refusal to attempt to effectuate settlement after the evidence reasonably indicates that the insured’s liability will be in excess of the policy limits constitutes bad faith.

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Duty to Defend Triggered by the Peculiar Risk Doctrine

Posted in: Auto Insurance, Case Updates, Duty to Defend, News December 26, 2009

In Amer. States Ins. v. Progressive Casualty Ins., 180 Cal. App. 4th 18 (2009), the California Court of Appeal addressed the “peculiar risk” doctrine in the context of an insurer’s duty to defend. 

Victor Meza was a self-employed truck driver who was hired by Western Trucking LLC (“Western”) as an independent contractor.  While driving a tractor trailer owned by Western and insured by Wilshire Insurance Company (“Wilshire”), Meza collided with a pedestrian, Yevdokia Bristman, seriously injuring him.  Bristman later sued the grading contractor who hired Western, Vinci Pacific Corporation and the general contractor, Garden Communities (collectively “Vinci Pacific”). 

Meza’s liability insurance carrier was Progressive Casualty Insurance Company (“Progressive”) and American States Insurance Co (“American”) provided the commercial auto liability policy covering Western and Vinci Pacific.  American tendered its defense of the Bristman suit to Progressive who disclaimed coverage.  American then sued Progressive, seeking a declaration that Progressive had a duty to defend. The trial court held that the “peculiar risk” doctrine did not apply and that Progressive did not have a duty to defend.

American appealed and the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision, holding that the Progressive had a duty to defend American against Bristman’s lawsuit based on the “peculiar risk” doctrine.  The “peculiar risk” doctrine is a form of vicariously liability where an owner or contractor can be held directly liable for damages that an independent contractor causes by negligently performing his work.  Progressive argued that this was a simple automobile accident that did not implicate any special or inherent danger in connection with the subcontractor’s operation of the truck.  The Court of Appeal disagreed.  Instead, the court noted that the Vinci Pacific allowed its subcontractors to use an entrance that required drivers to execute a U-turn, jump a curb, cross two pedestrian crosswalks and drive on the sidewalk, all without the assistance of flagmen.  This, the court reasoned, represented a level of control by the general contractor over the contractor’s work that involved a special, recognizable and inherent danger.  As a result, Vinci Pacific was potentially liable for Bristman’s injuries under the vicarious liability theory of the “peculiar risk” doctrine. 

Having established that potential liability existed, the court then held that Progressive had a duty to defend stating, “It is enough that a single claim is potentially covered by the policy; the insurer owes a duty to defend even if all other claims against the insured are clearly not covered […] [T]he insured need only show that the underlying claim may fall within policy coverage; the insurer must prove it cannot; the insurer, in other words, must present undisputed facts that eliminate any possibility of coverage.”

In holding that Progressive owed a duty to defend Vinci pursuant to the “peculiar risk” doctrine, the court noted two caveats.  First, that “where more than one insurer owes a duty to defend, a defense by one constitutes no excuse of the failure of any other insurer to perform.”  Second, that Progressive “may have a right to be reimbursed for defense costs allocable solely to claims for which there was no potential vicarious coverage under their policies.” 

Having concluded that a duty to defend existed based on potential liability under the peculiar risk doctrine, the Court of Appeal reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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