Insurer Wins Landmark Bad Faith Case Against Rival, Highlighting Industry’s Duty to Policyholders


Reporting by Samuel Adam Lopez, Legal Analyst (For more insights, visit USA Herald and read more from Samuel A. Lopez)

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[ATLANTA, GA] – In a significant victory for policyholders and third-party claimants, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a federal trial jury’s verdict in favor of American Builders Insurance Company (ABIC) against Southern-Owners Insurance Company (SOIC) in a case involving allegations of bad faith conduct.

The case, American Builders Insurance Co. v. Southern-Owners Insurance Co., centered around a tragic accident where an individual, identified as E.G., suffered life-altering injuries after falling from a roof, resulting in paralysis from the waist down. The incident led to over $400,000 in medical bills, with future costs projected into the millions.

“This case underscores the complexities of insurance litigation and the critical nature of insurers’ duties,” said Samuel A. Lopez, a Legal Analyst and a reporter for the USA Herald. “The ruling sends a clear message to the insurance industry about the importance of good faith in claim handling and the potential consequences of failing to meet these obligations.”

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The dispute involved three insurance companies: ABIC, the insurer for Beck Construction (the company for which E.G. was subcontracting), SOIC, the primary insurer for E.G.’s company, and Evanston Insurance Company, which held an excess policy. After the accident, SOIC refused to settle the claim, prompting ABIC and Evanston to each contribute a million dollars towards the settlement. ABIC then sued SOIC for common law bad faith under Florida’s doctrine of equitable subrogation, a move that would lead to a heated legal battle.

The district court’s denial of SOIC’s motion for summary judgment paved the way for the jury to hear the case, which ultimately found in favor of ABIC. SOIC’s subsequent motions for judgment as a matter of law or a new trial were also denied, leading to the appeal.

The specific allegations made by American Builders Insurance Company (ABIC) against Southern-Owners Insurance Company (SOIC) included:

  1. Failure to Settle: ABIC claimed that SOIC refused to settle the claim within the policy limits, which would have protected their mutual insured from excess liability.
  2. Intentional Disregard for the Insured’s Financial Interest: ABIC alleged that SOIC acted in its own interest with intentional disregard for the financial interest of the insured, which is a key element in bad faith claims.
  3. Lack of Proper Investigation and Assessment: It was argued that SOIC did little to investigate or assess the claim, which contributed to its refusal to settle.
  4. Refusal to Contribute to Settlement: SOIC’s refusal to contribute any amount towards the settlement led ABIC and Evanston to cover the settlement amount, which ABIC argued was a failure of SOIC to act in good faith.

The Eleventh Circuit’s affirmation of the trial court’s decision marks a significant moment in insurance litigation, highlighting the responsibilities of insurers to act in good faith when handling claims. The court held that the evidence supported the jury’s verdict and that SOIC’s actions constituted bad faith.

“This case serves as a reminder of the legal and ethical standards that govern the insurance industry and the justice system’s role in upholding these standards,” said Lopez. “The implications of this ruling extend beyond the parties involved, setting a precedent that could influence future disputes between insurers and insureds.”

The victory for ABIC is not just a win for the company but also for the broader legal principle that insurers must prioritize the interests of their insureds. The case underscores the importance of the doctrine of equitable subrogation, which allows an insurer that has paid a loss to step into the shoes of the insured and recover from a third party responsible for the loss.

As the insurance industry continues to analyze the ramifications of this landmark decision, policyholders and third-party claimants can take solace in the fact that the courts are willing to hold insurers accountable for their bad-faith conduct in claims handling.

For more news and insights on the insurance industry and consumer issues, visit USA Herald: