Accident victims in Florida who have worked with insurance companies probably understand how difficult it can be to get an insurance company to honor a claim. While insurance companies are notorious for making the claims process cumbersome and difficult, they still hold a duty to negotiate and attempt to settle a claim in good faith. A federal appellate court recently reversed a jury verdict that was in favor of an insurance company because the jury had not been properly instructed considering the good faith requirement.
According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff in the recently decided case is a man who was injured several years ago in a motorcycle accident. The plaintiff retained a personal injury attorney shortly after the accident, but communication was spotty between his counsel and the defendant. Months later, the plaintiff’s counsel sent a settlement offer to the defendant. The defendant did not communicate with their client about the settlement offer, and the plaintiff sued the driver and policyholder personally, obtaining over a $12 million verdict at trial.
After the initial trial, the plaintiff sued the insurance company directly, seeking to collect the $12 million judgment from them. The plaintiff argued that the defendant failed to act in good faith when considering the settlement offer, as required under Florida law. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s failure to consult or advise their client of the settlement offer, or the consequences of a much larger trial verdict, constituted bad faith. After the parties presented their cases at trial, the plaintiff proposed a jury instruction explaining the requirements for a finding of bad faith, but the trial court rejected the instruction. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed the jury instruction issue to the U.S. Court of Appeals.