Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Insurance companies are supposed to serve the interests of their insureds. By paying a premium, insureds should expect peace of mind, financial security, and a good faith investigation in the event of an accident. Unfortunately, that isn't the case all of the time.
Sometimes insurance companies act in "bad faith."Bad faith" is a legal term derived from principles of contract. Certain contracts, like insurance, require that parties act with "good faith and fair dealing," with one another. Specifically to insurance, insurers are mandated to fairly investigate, evaluate, and process a claim.
When an insured's insurance company fails to properly evaluate or process a claim, it could potentially lead to "bad faith" litigation against that insurance company. Recently, a California case expanded the ability for insureds to bring a bad faith litigation case against their own insurance company.
MASLO V. AMERIPRISE AUTO & HOME INSURANCE (2014)
The Plaintiff in Maslo was involved in a motor vehicle accident where it was found that the other driver was at fault. After medical treatment for a number of months, Plaintiff submitted a demand to his own insurance company for the policy limits under his UM (uninsured motorist) provision.
Ameriprise, the insurer, asked for an extension, and then commenced arbitration proceedings. In doing so, it did not make a settlement offer and refused to mediate the matter. As a result, Plaintiff had to wait an additional 2 years to receive an award, less than the policy limits.
After arbitration, Plaintiff filed a bad faith lawsuit against Ameriprise. Plaintiff alleged that Ameriprise forced Plaintiff into arbitration without investigating, evaluating, and attempting to resolve the claim. Ameriprise rebutted, as a defense, that there was a "genuine dispute" regarding payment, and that the arbitration award evidenced as much, since it was less than the policy limits. Ameriprise further stated that it was the fault of Plaintiff for overvaluing his own claim.
The trial court agreed with Ameriprise but the California Court of Appeal, 2nd Appellate District disagreed and reversed. The Appellate Court held that an arbitration award lower than the policy limit does not necessarily preclude an insured from bringing a bad faith lawsuit. It stated, in part:
"An insurer’s statutory duty to attempt to effectuate a prompt and fair settlement is not abrogated simply because the insured’s damages do not plainly exceed the policy limits. Nor is the insurer’s duty to investigate a claim excused by the arbitrator’s finding that the amount of damages was lower than the insured’s initial demand. Even where the amount of damages is lower than the policy limits, an insurer may act unreasonably by failing to pay damages that are certain and demanding arbitration on those damages."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR OTHER INSUREDS?
The recent decision makes it clear that insurance companies cannot simply rely upon an award, in of itself, to clear themselves of "bad faith." Insurance companies have a duty to thoroughly investigate, evaluate, and process a claim after liability is determined, no matter if they think that they can prevail at an arbitration proceeding. This means that insurance companies will have to make a good faith attempt to settle first party claims prior to arbitration.
It is always best to have an attorney represent your interests. Our office has a lot of experience in dealing with insurance companies -- and potential "bad faith" situations. We welcome your questions, calls, and cases.
Monday, July 14, 2014
A California DUI carries some harsh penalties. Due to the nature of this offense -- it is a clear public safety concern, our state has elected to take a tough stance. But just like any other criminal charge, there are steps that an accused can take that will help him or her in the future.
THE DUI ARREST
When there is sufficient probable cause, law enforcement may investigate and arrest an individual for a DUI. While defense attorneys can later challenge probable cause, it is wise to be respectful when stopped for suspicion of a DUI.
You should be polite and cooperative with law enforcement. It does not mean that you should waive your rights, but it will not help to be combative during the stop. Cursing, yelling, and being rude will not make the officer go away. In fact, it will be mentioned in the police report.
However, you should not volunteer information. Exercise your right to remain silent. Miranda is the landmark case, which protects statements from being admitted into evidence if there has not been an affirmative warning, but Miranda warnings only have to be given after a formal arrest. Thus, law enforcement will always utilize your statements to assess guilt before a warning. Slurred words, admissions of guilt, and memory lapses can lead to problems down the road.
AFTER THE ARREST
If you have been arrested, you should exercise your right to an attorney. There is a reason that there is law school and a bar examination. Further, there is a reason why attorneys charged with a crime will almost always retain another attorney. It is difficult for someone, under an emotional state, to represent themselves.
More than that, retaining an attorney will mean that a professional can immediately begin to protect your rights. Experience and knowledge can go a long way in fighting a DUI charge.
Schedule your DMV suspension hearing, or have your attorney do it immediately. There are two aspects to a DUI, as discussed on my website. There is the actual criminal charge handled by the superior court, and the DMV aspect of the case. They are distinct and separate, although the court can impact what the DMV will do.
Within 10 days of the arrest, a hearing needs to be scheduled. A DMV suspension hearing is a great opportunity to explore probable cause, the officer's testimony, and other evidence that will be used against you. Do not sleep on your privileges with respect to licensing issues.
AFTER YOUR "OR" RELEASE
Finally, after you have been arrested and released under your own recognizance, exercise your right to information. The web has become a treasure trove of free legal content, including my blog and website. You should become familiar with the criminal, and DMV, process. Further, you should research potential DUI attorneys. An accused should be aware of the charge against him or her, and the consequences of that charge.
Our office invites your questions. We have experience in DUI, and other criminal cases. Remember that time is of the essence, so do not procrastinate if you or a loved one has been charged with a DUI.