Slabbed has been dogged regarding its reporting on the Mississippi qui tam litigation involving State Farm. A recent post, Rigsbys file “Motion to Reconsider Scope of Proceedings in Light of Evidence Adduced in Discovery” – ask Court for additional time to conduct Discovery into “the Scheme,” provides some insight regarding the flood adjustment techniques required by National Flood versus how flood adjusters in the field actually do their job.
In recent conversations with attorneys representing homeowners against insurance companies in claims practice disputes, a number of recurrent themes in discovery arise. Insurers typically raise relevancy, privacy, trade secret and burden objections when policyholders attempt to find internal documents explaining the how, what, and why of an insurer’s claims procedures. Policyholder counsel must make motions to compel in spite of these common objections or those claims procedures and the motives behind them will never see the light of day.
Last week in Don’t Forget to Consider the Severity of Your Claim, I wrote about what severity means in the insurance context. We also started to talk about how severity can affect whether the insured’s claim was handled fairly by the insurer. Let’s hear a little more about what some of these carriers have to say about it and whether it makes sense to you.
Many of you probably think that I am referring to the extent of damage of a claim or a claim involving a total loss. The word “severity” naturally conjures up the thought of something that is serious or grievous. But I’m actually writing about something many of you probably don’t know all that much about. In the arena of bad faith litigation, severity is a way that insurers measure claims employees’ performance. And, of course, it doesn’t stop there – you knew there was an angle, right? Yes, severity can affect whether your insured’s claim was properly handled by the insurance company. Severity is one of the many, important factors that you should consider in your bad faith case against a carrier. Let me tell you more…
Remember back in the day when an insurance adjuster arrived at your house to inspect the damage and the adjuster wrote you a check on the spot? Some of you may, but most do not because it probably rarely happened. There may have been a day when most insurance companies paid claims immediately and in a manner respectful of the policyholder. Many claims departments required adjusters to help the insured find coverage. But, this is rarely the case today. Chip Merlin has even written about one insurance company currently calling out its competitors for not properly servicing policies in Chubb Calls Competitors Cheap And Unfair.
Last week, I wrote about some of the things you can expect to see, and not see, when Insurers like Safeco and Liberty Mutual respond to discovery requests. This week, I want to explain one of the steps you can take to combat these evasive discovery tactics. Some of the most effective and successful methods have been used across the country by large and small firms alike. What makes these plaintiffs’ law firms stand out is not the type of claim they pursue, the amount of the claim or the kind of insured they represent, but their commitment to not letting insurers get away with stonewalling discovery tactics. These attorneys go the extra mile, invest wisely, and do their homework. Sure, it might take some time; it’s going to take extra effort, and, naturally, nothing is free. But in the end, plaintiffs’ attorneys who obtain adjuster’s diaries, employee training manuals, and documents showing incentives for employees to put money into their own pockets instead of the insureds’ pockets, are going to go a long way in proving how their insured’s claim was improperly handled by the insurer from day one. This type of evidence can show your judge how the insurer never really intended to pay anything near a fair amount on your insured’s perfectly legitimate claim, if anything at all.
Dimechimes ClaimSmentor had an interesting post on its blog which partially supports my opinion that the BP claims process has an insufficient number of qualified people attempting to figure out and pay the full amount owed to those damaged by BP. An Open Letter to Admiral Thad Allen, President Obama, White House News Correspondents, ESIS Insurance, and All involved in the BP Oil Response- We Can Help Address Your Claims Concerns- Lead, Follow, or Get the Heck out of our Way!!!! stated this:
This is a continuation of State Farm Agrees With Chip Merlin Regarding Claims Handling Obligations and State Farm Claims Handling Standards. These are some of the standards, which are the recognized insurance industry obligations of good faith claims handling, that State Farm teachs to its claims adjusters.
State Farm has a First Party Coverage Seminar which sets forth the claims handling standards that are fairly standard throughout the insurance industry. The instructor’s manual to this seminar should be studied by insurance coverage counsel. It sets forth very explicit claims adjustment standards and even explains the purpose for many of them. I will be going over these claims standards because they are extremely important in understanding how an adjuster is supposed to go about handling a first party insurance claim.
An insurance claims blog, The Claims Spot, sponsored by an insurer claims consulting firm, Lanzko Consulting, made a point that the failure to have specific written claims standards could lead to a claim of bad faith. This is the same finding I suggested in Should Insurance Companies Have Claims Manuals Explaining Procedures and Standards for Adjustment?:
From a policyholder’s advocate viewpoint, I think an insurer would be crazy not to have a claims manual or claims procedure guidelines. Most state unfair claims trade practice laws generally require insurers to adopt and implement those standards and procedures.