Insurer that Pays Limit of Policy After Appraisal Did not Breach The Covenant of Good Faith & Fair Dealing
See the full video at https://rumble.com/v3j0y7w-imperfect-investigation-not-bad-faith.html and at https://youtu.be/t0r1XMNjzbk
Washington Street, LLC (“Washington Street”) appealed a District Court order granting summary judgment to Nationwide Property and Casualty Insurance Company (“Nationwide”), which ended Washington Street’s claims that Nationwide proceeded in bad faith in delaying claim payments following a fire that damaged Washington Street’s property.
In Washington Street, LLC v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Company, No. 22-3396, United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit (September 13, 2023) the Third Circuit resolved the dispute.
In July 2019, a fire caused by a tenant’s negligence destroyed an apartment building owned by Washington Street. Washington Street promptly submitted a claim for recovery to its insurer, Nationwide. Some six weeks later, in September 2019, Nationwide provided an initial claim estimate and payment, after Washington Street’s attorney complained about the pace of the investigation.
That initial payment ($376,342.95) was, as Nationwide acknowledged, incomplete, as it was subject to change based on additional repairs or damage found. In October 2019, Washington Street provided estimates for repairs not covered in Nationwide’s initial report. Nationwide reviewed those estimates and hired a consultant to review the entire project. The consultant completed his assessment in January 2020, estimating the total cost of repairs to be $635,898.86, after which Nationwide paid an additional $208,555.91, an amount the parties accepted as bringing the total payments to $584,907.68.
Washington Street was dissatisfied with that amount and demanded an impartial appraisal of the total loss. Nationwide cooperated by hiring an appraiser. Washington Street also hired an appraiser, and the two appraisers appointed an “umpire” to resolve any disagreements. In November 2020, the umpire entered an award for Washington Street: $859,670.03 for dwelling loss, $7,720.05 for business personal property, $35,306.40 for debris removal, and $74,200 for loss of income. The total amount exceeded Washington Street’s policy limit of $854,700 for dwelling loss, $60,000 for business income, and $25,000 for debris removal, and Nationwide paid the full policy amount.
During the appraisal, on June 3, 2020, Nationwide filed a subrogation lawsuit against the tenant who had negligently caused the fire. The subrogation investigation began in July 2019, but Nationwide did not inform Washington Street of the lawsuit until January 14, 2021. Eventually, Nationwide obtained a settlement that resulted in Washington Street receiving an additional $15,000, an amount Washington Street described as “fair and acceptable.”
Washington Street sued. After discovery, Nationwide moved for summary judgment and the District Court granted it. The Court held that Nationwide’s handling of Washington Street’s claim was “by no means a model of perfection” but it did not constitute bad faith.
Washington Street claims that Nationwide demonstrated bad faith by delaying six weeks to make its first partial payout, failing to make further estimates until Washington Street pressed for progress, hiring a building consultant for the alleged purpose of further delaying the process, making a still-deficient payment six months after the fire, knowingly misrepresenting its appraisal policy, delaying its policy reformation request, and filing its subrogation action prematurely.
Pennsylvania provides a statutory remedy if an insurer acts in bad faith toward the insured. Bad faith requires evidence so clear, direct, weighty and convincing as to enable a clear conviction, without hesitation, about whether or not the defendants acted in bad faith. At the summary judgment stage, the insured’s burden in opposing a summary judgment motion brought by the insurer is commensurately high because the court must view the evidence presented in light of the substantive evidentiary burden at trial.
Nationwide promptly investigated Washington Street’s claim, and its claims specialist visited the burned building soon after the site was deemed safe.
So too, Nationwide’s delay of six weeks in providing the first payment appears reasonable. On August 26, 2019, the claims specialist wrote, the fact is it is a large building and although I have spent days estimating, it has been a slow process. Nationwide’s first payment included a detailed estimate of property damage that was admittedly underinclusive and left the door open for Washington Street to submit further estimates once repairs got underway. Washington Street did not initiate any repairs, however.
The District Court noted, “Nationwide probably could have been more diligent,” but that doesn’t mean that Nationwide’s pace of review was unreasonable, much less that it showed disregard for Washington Street’s contractual rights.
Therefore, Washington Street did not show by clear and convincing evidence – the applicable standard of proof – that Nationwide acted in bad faith in processing Washington Street’s insurance claim.
The tort of bad faith requires a breach of contract by an insurer that provides clear, direct, weighty and convincing evidence sufficient to enable a clear conviction, without hesitation that the insurer acted in bad faith. The evidence did not exist to establish the required clear and convincing evidence of wrong doing it only reflected a claim that took time and expertise to resolve.
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