If you’ve been hurt by an underinsured driver, and you have enough UIM coverage to cover your claim, you probably think that you’re good to go. You’ve been with [name your insurance] for 10 years as a loyal customer, you’ve paid your bills on time, and heck, it’s your insurer. Why wouldn’t they just pay your claim – no questions asked?
Well if you come to experience what many of my clients have, you’ll soon find out it’s not so simple. When push comes to shove, your UIM carrier is still an insurance company. And its goal is to save money.
If you’re skeptical, recently the Norfolk Circuit Court case of Chavalier-Seawell v. Magnum provides a perfect example. In that case, the plaintiff was injured by the defendant, the defendant’s insurance carrier admitted fault, and it offered to pay their insurance limits of $100,000. Given that, the plaintiff went after his UIM carrier for an additional $150,000 that was available under his policy.
Unfortunately, the UIM carrier didn’t see fit to make ANY offer for settlement until five days before trial, when it made an offer of $50,00, then $55,000 and lastly $75,000 only the day before trial. By that time, the plaintiff had spent money on depositions, hiring a doctor, and other costs. So he was forced to go through with trial and was awarded $800,000 from a jury.
What makes this case interesting is that (in addition to the claim for damages for his injuries) the plaintiff requested money based upon bad faith behavior by the UIM carrier. Because the UIM waited so long to make an offer, and the offer clearly didn’t comport with the plaintiff’s injury, the plaintiff argued that the court could and should aware additional money based upon Virginia Code 8.01-66.1(D), Virginia’s bad faith statute.
While the court hasn’t made its decision, it has since ordered the UIM carrier to turn over its file to the plaintiff, which should provide the plaintiff more information as to why his claim was dealt with so poorly. This is a big win for the plaintiff, and hopefully other Virginia courts will follow suit.
It’s also a sad reminder that UIM carriers shouldn’t be treated any differently just because they are YOUR insurance.