In Florida auto accident claims, identifying the driver (or drivers) at fault is simply the first step. Then, as a federal court's recent ruling in King v. Geico shows, there is the process of wrangling with insurance companies in order to get them to pay up.
Michael King was injured in a three-car accident in Hillsborough County in late August 2004. The drivers of the two other cars were cited by police for careless driving. The car King was driving was owned by Donna Buttermore, a passenger at the time of the accident, and insured under a policy with Geico. King was treated for back and wrist strain as well as contusions in his knee and elbow and missed three days of work. He sought additional treatment from specialists, one of whom recommended that King undergo foot surgery.
King reported his injuries to Geico shortly after the accident. His attorney sent letters of settlement to the insurance companies representing the two other drivers for $100,000 and $50,000 respectively and to Geico, seeking $25,000, the maximum amount of uninsured motorist (UM) coverage available under the policy. In June 2006, he filed a civil remedy notice (CRN) with the state department of insurance, alleging that Geico had failed to attempt to settle the claim in good faith, and filed a lawsuit against Geico and one of the other insurers seeking to recoup his damages.
After protracted state court litigation, King moved to amend his complaint to include a bad faith claim against Geico and the company removed the case to federal district court.
The District Court denied Geico's motion for summary judgment on the bad faith claim, finding that the company failed to properly investigate King's claim after receiving the CRN. "The 'good faith' standard obligates an insurer to use the same degree of care and diligence to settle a claim as would a reasonably prudent person faced with the prospect of paying the total recovery," the court explained. That includes a duty to investigate the facts of the matter.
Here, the court found, the evidence showed that Geico performed no investigation to determine the extent of King's injuries, despite receiving the settlement offer and later the CRN. The company could have sought a statement from King under oath, access to his medical records and treating doctors, and could have performed separate examinations, yet did not did do so. "In sum, GEICO made no efforts to investigate the claim beyond review of the demand package, either at the time of the initial settlement offer or upon receipt of the CRN," the court found.
As a result, the court denied Geico's motion for summary judgment.
The best way to deal with an insurance bad faith claim in Florida is to avoid it altogether. With the help of an experienced and competent attorney, a person injured in a car accident can level the playing field and avoid unfair and unscrupulous insurance company tactics. The South Florida insurance attorneys at Anidjar & Levine, have vast experience representing clients in car accident cases and insurance disputes throughout the area, including in Ft. Lauderdale, Pompano Beach and Hialeah.
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