It is not often that car accident lawsuits make it all the way to the Florida Supreme Court. The recent case of Fridman v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Ill. was one of those rarities, and it resulted in a victory for the injured victim.
At the heart of the case was the auto insurance company’s years-long effort to deny, delay or not respond to the claims of the insured, even when liability was reasonably clear.
Plaintiff in this case waited for years – on the eve of trial – for the insurance company to finally extend an offer to compensate him for his claims. But it came with strings attached that would have required plaintiff forego any future action for bad faith. Trial was continued another six months and again, just before that, insurer again tried to extend an offer for policy limits, but still wanted to remove a future bad faith insurance lawsuit from the table.
Plaintiff again refused, arguing at that point, it should be up to a jury to decide whether the insurer was liable and further what the damages should be. The trial court agreed, and jurors ultimately sided with plaintiff, awarding him $1 million in damages.
Still, plaintiff had made it clear he intended to sue the insurer for bad faith, as he asserted they had improperly delayed and denied a legitimate claim for benefits under his underinsured motorist (UIM) policy.
The insurance company appealed the verdict and attacked the claimant’s argument that he was entitled to pursue a bad faith action because, as they noted, they had tried to pay him the full policy limits before trial.
This case started way back in early 2007 when plaintiff suffered injuries as a result of a crash with an underinsured motorist. Soon after, he filed a claim with his insurer, defendant, seeking UIM coverage under his own policy for the full limits of $50,000. But the insurer refused again and again to pay. So by late 2008, plaintiff decided to file a Civil Remedy Notice, alleging the company had failed to act in good faith during settlement negotiations.
By spring 2009, he had received no response from the insurer, which had 60 days to give one. Therefore, he filed a lawsuit seeking to determine liability under the policy and full extent of damages. He noted his intent thereafter to file a bad faith insurance claim.
Early the following year, he extended a settlement offer of $50,000. Insurer never responded, so the court after 30 days deemed it rejected.
A month before trial – four years after the accident – the insurer tendered a check for $50,000. Plaintiff rejected it, and trial court granted defense request for continuance. Six months later, just before the scheduled retrial, insurer tried again with a check for $50,000, which was also rejected.
After the case went to to trial and jurors awarded plaintiff $1 million, insurer appealed. The appellate court accepted insurer’s argument that the settlement offer made by insurer for the policy limits prior to trial made the issue of UIM coverage – and therefore bad faith – moot.
Plaintiff appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, and justices quashed the appellate decision.
The court ruled that insureds are entitled to a determination of liability and full damages before litigating a bad faith claim, and secondly, that trial court’s decision to retain jurisdiction and consider adding the pleading of bad faith was appropriate.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Fridman v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Ill., Feb. 25, 2016, Florida Supreme Court
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