The Sapienza’s purchased a home in an historic district in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, tore it down, and built a new home which the historic preservation board approved. However, the new house upset the neighbors who sued for injunctive relief (to include having the house torn down) arguing that the new structure violated certain height and setback restrictions. Liberty Mutual defended the Sapienza’s under a reservation of rights. The trial court in the underlying case granted injunctive relief after finding that “compensation would not provide adequate relief,” a ruling affirmed by the Supreme Court of South Dakota. The Sapienza’s were given 30 days to demolish their home which they did at the cost of more than $60,000.00. They then sued Liberty Mutual for breach of contract, both for failing to provide an adequate defense and for refusing to indemnify them for their out of pocket “damages”. They also filed three counts described as “bad faith” claims. The U.S. District judge granted Liberty Mutual’ s motion to dismiss the three bad faith claims, but denied the motion to dismiss the breach of contract claims. The judge gave plaintiffs 14 days to file a motion for leave to amend their complaint if they had a factual basis for alleging a breach of the duty to defend and certified a question to the South Dakota Supreme Court to decide whether “the costs the Sapienzas incurred to comply with the injunction constitute covered ‘damages’ under the Policies.”
We cover current issues, highlights and best practices exclusively on claims of bad faith and extra contractual damages.
Summary: Plaintiff sued title insurer upon learning of burdensome recorded easement after purchase of property. Plaintiff sought recovery for breach of contract as well as under the Consumer Protection Act, The Insurance Fair Conduct Act, negligence, and breach of the duty of good faith. Prior to filing suit, Plaintiff sought $125,000 based on diminution in value of the property due to the easement. Title insurer accepted coverage but disagreed as to damage caused by the easement. Title insurer hired expert appraiser who determined diminution in value was $25,000 and title insurer immediately offered to pay that amount. Plaintiff then demanded $100,000 settlement. Title insurer then mailed check to Plaintiff for $25,000, which was rejected and returned by Plaintiff.
Summary: State Farm rejected an injured car driver’s $35,000 offer to settle against State Farm’s insured who admitted negligence. The trial resulted in a judgment for nearly $225,000, well above the $100,000 per person limit. The Delaware trial court dismissed the resulting bad faith claim on statute of limitations grounds, relying on an earlier unpublished superior court opinion. In a case of first impression, the Supreme Court of Delaware abrogated the unpublished decision and held that the bad faith action accrued when the excess judgment against the insured became final and unappealable.
Summary: A Washington homeowners association filed suit against Derus Wakefield II, LLC for property damage at a condominium project. Derus tendered the suit to the association’s insurer, QBE, which denied the tender for defense at which point Everest agreed to defend under a reservation of rights. It then sued QBE arguing it had a duty to defend under Washington law. The matter was removed to federal court where the district court judge found the action was timely and further found that Everest could depose QBE’s coverage attorney in light of the bad faith claims.
Summary: The District Court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims for negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress and unfair business practice in violation of the California Unfair Competition Law statute. The District Court held that the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) claim was legally barred because it attempted to enforce a provision of the Unfair Insurance Practices Act (“UIPA”) that does not give rise to a private cause of action. The District Court also held that California law does not allow negligence claims to be asserted against insurers relating claims handling.