Kansas City Insurance Bad Faith Lawyers

Kansas City Insurance Bad Faith Lawyers

Our Insurance Bad Faith Attorneys at Hamilton and Associates represent one of only three Kansas City law firms that are the best at Insurance Bad Faith litigation. We have succeeded with many multi-million dollar judgments … paid judgments.

Insurance Bad Faith elements are often alleged in personal injury and death cases. “Insurance Bad Faith” cases, however, are different. These are primarily claims referred from another lawyer through a fee share agreement to benefit both the insured and the accident victim.

We often get calls from attorneys asking about Insurance Bad Faith and how to succeed at these lawsuits. Our attorneys have attended many continuing education courses where over a hundred other attorneys show, attempting to master the subject. The single biggest deficit seen is that attorneys assume there is a “trick” to succeed at insurance bad faith.

There is no “trick” or short check-list of insurance bad faith tasks to complete. This is an entire, complex, and difficult area of the law; that frankly takes decades of work to master. This is the reason why most successful insurance bad faith cases are referred to lawyers with specific experience, such as our team at Hamilton and Associates. That is not a sales pitch; it is simply the reality of this case type.

What is Bad Faith?

Insurance bad faith is the intentional disregard of the financial interest of the insured by an insurance company in the hope of escaping the full responsibility imposed upon it by its policy.

There are two basic types of bad faith cases:

  1. The failure to defend an insured when a lawsuit is filed
  2. The failure to properly investigate, negotiate, or settle claims against an insured.

There is significant overlap in duties insurers promise to fulfill. In spite of this, the idea is straightforward. An insurance corporation takes money (in the form of premiums) from its customer. This customer is an ordinary person; not a legal expert with significant insurance experience.

In exchange for the insured’s money, the insurance company promises to protect its customer by hiring experts to defend him. The insurer claims you are in “Good Hands,” that it is a “Good Neighbor,” and even posts ads of “evil” attorneys plotting to steal one’s home and livelihood. Accordingly, the insurance customer places his money and trust in the hands of the insurance company to protect him from a lawsuit should he be negligent. The monetary help of the customer (the insured) is entirely in the hands of the insurance company.

Bad faith arises when the insurance company has already taken the money it wants from the customer. Then, the insurance company ignores the promises it made in exchange for that money. Rather, the insurance company places its own financial interests ahead of its customer. This is done through interpreting its large and technical contract of insurance to state that either there is no defense, no insurance, or no policy limits. Insurance bad faith litigation is a legal response by the courts to make insurance companies pay for the excess verdicts when the insurance company betrays its agreement with its own customer.

What the History of Insurance Bad Faith in Missouri?

In 1936, the Missouri Court of Appeals decided the case of McCombs vs Fidelity and Casualty Company, 89 S.W.2d 114 (Mo App. 1936). This initiated the era of the bad faith insurance concept. Fourteen years later, the Supreme Court of Missouri adopted the McCombs principles in the similar case of Zumwalt v. Utilities Insurance Company. In that case the Supreme Court of Missouri held as follows:

[T]he weight of authority is that where the insurer in a liability policy reserves the exclusive right to contest or settle any claim brought against the assured, and prohibits him from voluntarily assuming any liability or settling any claims without the insurer’s consent, except at his own costs, and the provisions of the policy provide that the insurer may compromise or settle such a claim within the policy limits, no action will lie against the insurer for the amount of the judgment recovered against the insured in excess of the policy limits, unless the insurer is guilty of fraud or bad faith in refusing to settle a claim within the limits of the policy.

Zumwalt v. Utilities Insurance Company, 228 S.W. 2d 750 (Mo. 1950).

In addressing the concept of bad faith, the court held an insurer is not permitted to “take a gamble on getting a favorable verdict rather than to make a settlement within the limits of the policy.” Id. at 754. The Supreme Court further held that bad faith must be determined based on the particular facts of each case. Id. Finally, the court concluded that as applied to the facts before it, “bad faith on the part of the insurer would be the intentional disregard of the financial interest of the insured in the hope of escaping the full responsibility imposed upon it by its policy.” Id.

The general idea is that the insurance company assumes control over all settlement negotiations, investigation, and legal proceedings, depriving its insured the chance to protect himself. When the insurance company fails to act in the insured’s best interest, then a lawsuit is created (a tort is committed) by the insurance company.

What are the Elements of Bad Faith in Missouri?

The courts in Zumwalt and Scotsdale set out the essential elements of bad faith. For failing to settle, they are as follows:

  1. that the insurer has the authority to settle a claim against its insured within (or by payment of) 15 the policy limits;
  2. that the insurer has the opportunity to settle a claim against its insured within (or by payment of) the policy limits;
  3. that the insurer fails to settle a claim against its insured within (or by payment of) the policy limits in bad faith; and
  4. that the insured suffers damage as a proximate result.

Bad Faith Insurance Jury Instructions

A time tested method to learn the elements to litigate a bad faith case is to “begin with the end in mind.” Attorneys do this by looking to the jury instructions which is the final goal in winning the case. For a failure to settle with in policy limits case, insurance bad faith jury instructions should roughly appear as follows:

VERDICT DIRECTOR

First,          _______ insurance company assumed control over negotiations and settlement of claims brought against insured

Second, Victim made offer to settle claims against insured for within policy limits of insurer

Third, Insurer refused to settle within policy limits within the deadline

Fourth, In refusing, acted in bad faith

Fifth, Refusal directly contributed to cause damage to insured.

Patterned after Advantage Building & Exteriors, Inc. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., WD76880 (2014).

Insurance Allegations of the Violation of the Duty to Cooperate

Insurance companies do not easily or readily pay bad faith insurance claims. Rather, you should hire highly skilled, experienced, and aggressive lawyers to defend the action. This often includes allegations that the insured customer violated his contractual duty under the insurance policy to cooperate. Virtually all insurance policies require the customer to immediately, and in writing, inform the insurance company of any lawsuits filed against him.

Next, the insurance company generally has the option of choosing the defense attorneys to aggressively defend any underlying lawsuit. Insurance companies make the following allegations:

  1. The insurer was not put on notice of the lawsuit
  2. The insurance company was not given the opportunity to defend the lawsuit
  3. The insurance company did not consent to any cooperation by the insured
  4. The insurance company is prejudice by the misconduct of the insured in failing to cooperate

These even come as jury instructions allowing a trial verdict to be for the defendant insurer for this contractual violation. Our experience has been that you can succeed without running the danger of failure to cooperate allegations. The specific manner with which this is managed is a nuance. However, avoiding this defense is helpful.

The Assignment of a Bad Faith Lawsuit

Section 537.065 of the revised statutes of Missouri, allows an insured the legal right to assign his lawsuit to another person in exchange for valuable consideration. The text of 537.065 is as follows:

Claimant and tort-feasor may contract to limit recovery to specified assets or insurance contract–effect

537.065. Any person having an unliquidated claim for damages against a tort-feasor, on account of bodily injuries or death, may enter into a contract with such tort-feasor or any insurer in his behalf or both, whereby, in consideration of the payment of a specified amount, the person asserting the claim agrees that in the event of a judgment against the tort-feasor, neither he nor any person, firm or corporation claiming by or through him will levy execution, by garnishment or as otherwise provided by law, except against the specific assets listed in the contract and except against any insurer which insures the legal liability of the tort-feasor for such damage and which insurer is not excepted from execution, garnishment or other legal procedure by such contract. Execution or garnishment proceedings in aid thereof shall lie only as to assets of the tort-feasor specifically mentioned in the contract or the insurer or insurers not excluded in such contract. Such contract, when properly acknowledged by the parties thereto, may be recorded in the office of the recorder of deeds in any county where a judgment may be rendered, or in the county of the residence of the tort-feasor, or in both such counties, and if the same is so recorded then such tort-feasor’s property, except as to the assets specifically listed in the contract, shall not be subject to any judgment lien as the result of any judgment rendered against the tort-feasor, arising out of the transaction for which the contract is entered into.

(L. 1959 S.B. 259 § 1).

The General Idea of RSMo 537.065 Assignments

The general idea is that the perpetrator of the bad act who caused the damages to the victim assigns his right to sue his own insurance company over to the victim in exchange for protection from a judgment against him. This insured assigns his rights, claims, and causes of action, including bad faith he may have against his insurance carrier, coming from the processing or adjusting of his claims.

The general elements of the assignment are to typically as follows:

  • The insured agrees to retain the law offices of the victim, if a court rules that the assignment is not valid
  • The insured agrees to cooperate and assist the lawyers of the victim in the bad faith litigation
  • Some consideration is exchanged between the parties (typically money or a release)

There are other smaller terms that an 537.065 assignment of a bad faith case can include. We at Hamilton and Associates do not often use these. However I have seen the following terms added:

  • Waiver of jury trial
  • Agreement not to object to the admission of evidence
  • Agreement not to cross examine witnesses
  • Agreement to offer no evidence
  • Waiver of the right to appeal a judgment
  • Agreement not to levy the judgment personally against the insured
  • Agreement to bring the bad faith case in the insured’s name
  • Agreement to pay the proceeds of the case to the victims and their attorneys

We find these smaller terms are typically not needed. However, that is to be decided on a case by case basis. We prefer the underlying lawsuit not only be real, but appear real to all eyes. Insurance companies often allege that the underlying lawsuit is a sham and a mockery of justice. This is easily avoided by simply prosecuting the case as normal.

Punitive Damages for Bad Faith Insurance Claims

The bad faith failure to settle and failure to defend lawsuits nearly always include a request for punitive damages against the insurance company. In Missouri, punitive damages are appropriate only when there is “outrageous” conduct. This is a typically termed as a “evil motive” or “reckless indifference to the rights of others.” Menaugh v. Resler Optometry, Inc., 799 S.W.2d 71, 73 (Mo. banc 1990); Stojkovic v. Weller, 802 S.W.2d 152, 155 (Mo. banc 1991). The facts of the various bad faith insurance cases we have seen do carry reckless indifference to the rights of their own insured and are appropriate for punitive damages. Expect to see punitive damages in an insurance bad faith case.

The Duty to Defend

A second type of insurance bad faith case is the failure of the insurance company to defend its own insured. This is when the insurers wrongfully refuses to defend its insured and leaves them alone to battle a case where they are at fault. The critical cases on the failure of the duty to defend are as follows.

Missouri Supreme Court:

Columbia Casualty Co. v. HIAR Holding, LLC, 411 S.W.3d 258 (Mo. banc 2013).

Schmitz v. Great American Assurance Co., 337 S.W.3d 700 (Mo. banc 2011).

Gulf Insurance v. Noble Broadcast, 936 S.W.2d 810 (Mo. banc 1997).

 

Missouri Courts of Appeals:

Hunter v. Moore, 2015 WL 1735076 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015)

Advantage Building v. Mid Continent Casualty Co., 449 S.W.3d 16 (Mo. App. W.D. 2014).

Assurance Co. of America v. Secura Ins. Co., 384 S.W.3d 224, 232 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012)

Shobe v. Allstate, 279 S.W.3d 203 (Mo. App. W.D. 2009).

Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Ennulat, 231 S.W.3d 297 (Mo. App. E.D. 2007).

Truck Insurance Exchange v. Prairie Framing, LLC, 162 SW.3d 64 (Mo. App. W.D. 2005).

Cologna v. Farmers & Merchants Ins. Co., 786 S.W.2d 691 (Mo. App. 1990).

Johnson v. Mercantile Trust Co., 510 S.W.2d 33, 40 (Mo. 1974)

Landie v. Century Indemnity Co, 390 S.W.2d 558 (Mo. App. 1965).

 

Other Jurisdictions:

McGrath v. Everest National Insurance Co., 668 F.Supp.2d 1085, 1107 (N.D. Ind. 2010)

Newhouse v. Citizens Security Mutual Ins. Co., 501 N.W.2d 1 (Wis. 1993)

State ex rel Mid Century Ins. Co. v. McKelvey, 666 S.W.2d 457 (Mo. App. 1984

 

Learned Treatises:

17 LEE R. RUSS, COUCH ON INSURANCE sec. 239:73 (3d ed. 1995).

No Insurance Policy Limits in Bad Faith

Typically, in lawsuits the amount of insurance and therefore, the amount the case is worth is limited by the policy limits of the insurance contract. Insurance bad faith cases do not suffer that limitation, in most cases. The Supreme Court has ruled that the duty to defend is so vital to protecting Missouri citizens, an insurance company’s wrongful failure to defend or settle within policy limits precludes any complaint it might have that it should not be liable to indemnify its customers when its “bet” for money fails to payoff. Accordingly, many bad faith insurance cases settle or receive judgments in excess of a million dollars.

The Best Way to Evaluate an Insurance Bad Faith Case

The insurance bad faith attorneys at Hamilton and Associates have worked decades on gaining the specific experience and successful history in bad faith insurance litigation. This is a highly technical and specialized area of the law. Each case presents its own facts, issues, and opportunities. The best way to evaluate an insurance bad faith case is to contact us and request a consultation regarding your specific facts.

NOTEWORTHY CASES

Columbia Cas. Co. v. Hiar Holding, L.L.C., 411 S.W.3d 258 (Mo. banc 2013).

Schmitz v. Great American Assur., Co., 337 S.W.3d 700 (Mo. banc 2011).

Dhyne v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 188 S.W.3d 454, 457 (Mo. banc 2006).

Gulf Insurance Co. v. Noble Broadcast, 936 S.W.2d 810 (Mo. banc 1997).

Dutton v. Amer. Family Mutual Ins. Co., WD74940 pp. 20 (Mo.App. W.D. 1-21-2014).

Scotsdale Insurance Company and Wells Trucking, Inc. v. Addison Insurance Company, WD 75963 (Oct. 1, 2013).

Durbin v. Deitrick, 323 S.W.3d 122 (Mo.App. W.D. 2010).

Roberts v. Printup, 595 F.3d 1181 (10th Cir. 2010).

Shobe v. Kelly, 279 S.W.3d 203, 221 (Mo.App.W.D. 2009).

Johnson v. Allstate Ins., 262 S.W.3d 655, 663 (Mo.App.W.D. 2008).

Rinehart v. Shelter, 261 S.W.3d 583 (Mo.App. W.D. 2008).

Wade v. Emcasco Ins., 483 F.3d 657 (10th Cir. 2007).

Truck Ins. Exch. v. Prairie Framing, LLC, 162 S.W.3d 64, 94-95 (Mo.App. 2005).

Overcast v. Billings Mutual Insurance Co., 996 S.W.2d 76, 82 (Mo.App. S.D. 1999).

Katz Drug Co. v. Commercial Standard Ins., 647 S.W.2d 831, 841 (Mo.App. W.D. 1983).

Landie v. Century Indemnity Company, 390 S.W.2d 558 (Mo.App. K.C. 1965).