Tampa Federal Court Refuses to Sever Bad Faith Claim Against Insurer From Underlying Lawsuit: Jirau v. Wathen

The Middle District of Florida has refused to sever a bad faith insurance claim filed against an automobile insurance company from the underlying negligence action. In Jirau v. Wathen, a man was hurt in a Brandon traffic wreck. Following the crash, the man filed a negligence lawsuit against the allegedly at-fault driver in state court. He also sought underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage from his vehicle insurer. In addition, the man accused his insurance company of acting in bad faith when settling his claim. After the man filed his lawsuit, the insurer successfully removed the case to the Middle District of Florida in Tampa based upon diversity of citizenship. Diversity of citizenship is appropriate only when each of the parties to a lawsuit is a resident of a different state, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

Following removal to federal court, the injured man sought to have the case remanded back to state court because the at-fault driver was also a Florida citizen. Despite evidence to the contrary, the auto insurer claimed diversity of citizenship existed and asked the court to sever the at-fault driver from the case rather than remand the entire lawsuit. Following a hearing, the federal court granted the injured man’s motion and sent the case back to state court. According to the Middle District of Florida, “the power to sever non-diverse defendants to maintain jurisdiction should be used sparingly” in order to prevent potential prejudice. In response, the insurance company filed a motion for reconsideration as to the bad faith claim pending against it with the federal court.

After reviewing the claims the injured man made against the at-fault driver and his insurer, the court stated that severing the bad faith cause of action would waste judicial resources. Additionally, the court held it would be unfair to require the accident victim to pursue two different cases against the same defendant in both state and federal court. The federal court added that doing so could require the plaintiff to prove damages related to the same accident twice. Since severing the claims would be unnecessarily unfair to the plaintiff, the Middle District of Florida in Tampa denied the auto insurer’s motion for reconsideration.

If you were injured or a loved one was tragically killed in a Miami car accident, you may be entitled to recover damages for your loss. The hardworking attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. represent motor vehicle and other injury accident victims across South Florida. To discuss your situation with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give us a call today at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Jirau v. Wathen, Dist. Court, MD Florida 2014

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