California Court of Appeal Finds That a 10:1 Ratio Between Punitive Damages and Compensatory Damages Awards Satisfies Due Process

Posted in: Breach of Contract, Case Updates, Insurance Bad Faith, Punitive Damages September 06, 2013

A 10-to-1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages awards in an insurance bad faith case passes Constitutional muster.  So says the California Court of Appeal in its decision in Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Insurance Company, __ Cal. App. 4th ___, 2013 Cal. App. LEXIS 583 (2013).  The decision is significant in that it affirms that punitive damages are not limited to a single-digit ratio and that a ratio of punitive to compensatory damages of 10-to-1, and perhaps higher, falls within the maximum permitted under due process.  Additionally, the decision clarifies what damages may be included in fixing the ratio of compensatory to punitive damages. 

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Court Approval is Not Needed to Assert a Punitive Damages Claim Against a Health Care Service Plan

Posted in: Case Updates, Health Insurance, Punitive Damages February 27, 2012

In a victory for health insurance policy holders over health insurers/health care service plans, in Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc, v. Superior Court (Rahm, et al, Real Parties), 2012 Cal. App. LEXIS 138 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. Feb. 15, 2012), the Court of Appeals ruled that a plaintiff does not need to obtain approval from the trial court before asserting a claim for punitive damages against a health care service plan.  Specifically, the Court ruled that California Civil Procedure section 425.13 applies only to health care providers (such as doctors), but does not apply to health care service plans such as Kaiser Foundation Health Plan or Anthem/Blue Cross. The Rahm family filed a lawsuit against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and two Kaiser health care providers.  The Rahms claimed that Kaiser improperly delayed before ordering an MRI for their daughter Anna, resulting in the eventual loss of Anna’s right leg and portions of her pelvis and spine.  Specifically, despite numerous requests by Anna’s parents that Kaiser authorize an MRI for Anna, Kaiser refused.  As a result, there was a considerable delay in discovering that Anna was suffering from a “high grade” osteosarcoma, one of the fastest growing types of osteosarcoma.  The…

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California Courts Rule Punitive Damages Award of 16 to 1 Ratio Not Unconstitutionally Excessive.

Posted in: Punitive Damages August 30, 2011

In a somewhat surprising recent decision, the California Court of Appeal upheld a punitive damages award that carried a ratio of more than 16 to 1 based on the compensatory damages awarded by the jury.  The ruling was surprising considering the United States Supreme Courts’ recent holding that “grossly excessive” punitive damages awards offend due process under the Fourteenth Amendment, and stating that “in practice, 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, 425 (2003).  California courts have once again sent a clear message of willingness to uphold just punitive damages awards under appropriate circumstances, applying a balancing test as opposed to a bright line ratio approach.

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Insurers Cannot Escape Bad Faith Liability By Relying On In-House Experts And The "Genuine Dispute Doctrine"

Posted in: Disability Insurance, ERISA, Insurance Bad Faith, Punitive Damages August 23, 2011

Insurers often wrongfully deny policy benefits to their insureds in situations where there may be some uncertainty as to coverage.  Despite an overarching duty to act reasonably and find in favor of coverage in such situations, insurers often will deny coverage and rely on their in-house medical experts’ (i.e., nurses, doctors) analysis and opinions as a basis for denial.  In such situations, the insurer denies coverage at its peril.

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What are the Available Remedies Against an Insurance Company That Has Acted in Bad Faith?

Posted in: Attorneys' Fees, ERISA, Insurance Bad Faith, Insurance Questions and Concepts, Punitive Damages June 06, 2011

This article will be the second in a series of articles by McKennon Law Group PC addressing and answering basic questions concerning insurance law.  This one addresses: What are the available remedies against an insurance company that has acted unreasonably in handling an insurance claim? The most common causes of action against insurers in the non-ERISA context are breach of contract and bad faith.  The breach of contract claim allows an insured to recover policy benefits owed under the insurance policy plus applicable interest from the date the benefits were due (or at the rate of 10% on delayed disability payments in California).  The benefits due will depend on the type of policy at issue.  They may be a specific amount (e.g., death benefits) or may depend upon a proof of loss (e.g., value of property damaged or destroyed).

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Dental Hygienist Wins Large Jury Verdict in Disability Insurance Lawsuit

Posted in: Case Updates, Disability Insurance, Insurance Bad Faith, News, Punitive Damages February 10, 2011

In 1996, Plaintiff Laura Kieffer developed carpal tunnel syndrome and severe cervical pain which forced her to stop working as a dental hygienist. Thereafter, Kieffer started receiving disability payments under an individual disability insurance policy she purchased from Paul Revere Life Insurance Company and its parent company the Unum Group Corporation. Even though she had been receiving disability payments for nearly ten years, Unum terminated her benefits in March of 2008. As a result, Laura sued in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Unum had unreasonably terminated her benefits. She sued for breach of contract, insurance bad faith and for punitive damages. This week, a jury awarded her $4.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Unum intends to appeal the verdict.

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Court Upholds $500 Million Award Against U.S. Life Insurance Co.

Posted in: Case Updates, News, Punitive Damages January 19, 2010

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld an arbitration award requiring U.S. Life Insurance Co. to pay reinsurance of more than $500 million to Superior National Insurance Companies, workers’ compensation insurer in liquidation, the California Department of Insurance reported. In a press release, California Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner said that “upholding this award means that that hundreds of millions of dollars will be available to pay the claims of workers injured on the job through the California Insurance Guarantee Association (CIGA) and other guarantee associations.”  “This is huge and welcome news,” Poizner said. U.S. Life is a subsidiary of American International Group (AIG) and was a reinsurer for five California workers’ compensation insurance companies that were liquidated in 2000. U.S. Life argued that Superior National and its affiliates failed to disclose to U.S. Life all pertinent information regarding the adequacy of its outstanding reserves for payment of claims, and exposing U.S. Life to substantial losses, CDI said. On June 25, 2007 the U.S. District Central District in Los Angeles entered an original judgment against U.S. Life for $443.5 million. U.S. Life subsequently appealed to the Ninth Circuit. Fourteen months after arguments were heard and the case submitted, the…

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California Supreme Court Embraces 1:1 Punitive Damages Ratio

Posted in: Case Updates, News, Punitive Damages January 14, 2010

The California Supreme Court has embraced the principle suggested by the U.S. Supreme Court that a ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages of one-to-one is the federal constitutional maximum where there is relatively low reprehensibility and the compensatory damages award is substantial.    In Roby v. McKesson Corporation, plaintiff Charlene Roby filed alleged a wrongful termination and harassment action against McKesson and her supervisor Schoener claiming she was fired because of a medical condition and a related disability. The jury found in favor of Roby on all causes of action and awarded compensatory damages of $3,511,000 against McKesson and $500,000 against the supervisor, Schoener. The jury also awarded punitive damages: $15,000,000 against McKesson and $3,000 against Schoener. The trial court reduced the compensatory damages against McKesson to $2,805,000 because some of the damage awards overlapped.   The California Court of Appeal reduced the compensatory damages award to $1.4 million, finding there was insufficient evidence for a harassment verdict against McKesson and that the $15 million punitive damages award was excessive under the federal due process clause. The Court of Appeal determined that the maximum permissible punitive damages award, based on the facts of the case and size of the compensatory…

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Court of Appeal Complicates the Analysis of Mental and Nervous Disability Claims

Posted in: Case Updates, Disability Insurance, Health Insurance, Insurance Bad Faith, News, Punitive Damages January 14, 2010

Bosetti v. The United States Life Ins. Co., 175 Cal. App. 4th 1208 (2009) is an important California Court of Appeal decision that addressed whether a two-year benefits limitation on disabilities due to “mental, nervous or emotional disorder[s]” could serve to limit benefits payable to an insured disabled from depression and anxiety who also complained of interrelated physical impairments. Bosetti was employed by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District. As part of her employment benefits, she was covered under a group long-term disability insurance policy issued by The United States Life Insurance Company in the City of New York (“U.S. Life”). Bosetti‘s job was eliminated for economic reasons. Shortly after she learned that her employment would be terminated, she saw a doctor for depression and was placed on temporary disability. Her disability extend beyond two years, and had a physical component as well as an emotional one.  Under the policy, Bosetti could obtain disability benefits for two years if she was disabled from her own occupation. After that time, she could only obtain disability benefits if she was disabled from “any occupation.”  U.S. Life concluded that Bosetti was not disabled from any occupation and terminated her disability benefits at…

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