In many car accident cases, we see severe injuries or even death, yet unfortunately the amount of insurance coverage available is insufficient to cover all of the damages. THe minimum amount of insurance coverage in Maryland is $30,000.00 per injured person and $60,000.00 per incident total. Therefore, there are many car wrecks where the victim has damages well in excess of the amount of insurance coverage available.
Just this week, a colleague of mine named Irwin Weiss published an article in Trial Reporter Magazine titled "Third Party Bad Faith: Getting More Than The Policy Limit." The article is well written and provides an excellent summary of the law governing third party bad faith insurance claims in Maryland. A few key points from the article are set forth below:
1. Maryland recognizes third party bad faith claims, and insurance companies owe a duty to their insured to use reasonable care in evaluating claims and settling cases within the available policy limits so as not to jeopardize the insured's assets. Sweeten v. National Mutual Insurance Co., 233 Md. 52 (1963); State Farm v. White, 248 Md. 324 (1967); Allstate v. Campbell, 334 Md. 381 (1994).
2. If an injured party obtains a judgment in excess of the policy limits of an insured, the cause of action for bad faith failure to settle the claim belongs to the insured and not to the injured party. Therefore, the injured party needs to obtain an assignment of the insured's bad faith claim in exchange for an agreement not to pursue the assets of the insured. The assignment procedure has been specifically approved by the Maryland Court's in Medical Mutual Liability Ins., Inc. v. Evans, 330 Md. 1 (1993). A lawyer can be helpful in properly obtaining the assignment of this bad faith claim, and our lawyers at Goldberg, Finnegan & Mester can be reached at 301-589-2999.
3. The damages in a third party bad faith claim in Maryland is the amount by which the judgment rendered exceeds the amount of insurance coverage. It is not clear whether an insured is entitled to emotional distress damages. Punitive damages are not available in Maryland unless it can be shown that the insurer acted with specific malice against its insured. Owens Illinios v. Zenobia, 325 Md. 420 (1992).
4. The factors considered in evaluating an insurance company's refusal to settle within policy limits are as follows: (i) severity of injuries/likelihood of verdict greatly in excess of policy limits, (ii) lack of proper investigation of accident, (iii) lack of skillful evaluation of plaintiff disability, (iv) failure of insurer to inform insured of a compromise offer within or near policy limits, (v) pressure on insured to make a contribution to settlement within policy limits as an inducement to settle, and (vi) actions demonstrating a greater concern for the insurer monetarty interest than for financial risk to insured. ( See State Farm. v. White).
5. It is important to hire a lawyer skilled and knowledgeable about how to proceed with obtaining compensation in excess of the policy limits. This includes hiring a lawyer who understands the importance and signficance of writing a "Bad Faith Letter" to the insurance company urging settlement within the policy.
Our team of lawyers has experience in handling bad faith claims in Maryland; and we will explore all options for locating additional insurance coverage and/or establishing bad faith so that compensation in excess of the coverage can be obtained. Of course it is not possible to obtain compensation in excess of the amount of coverage in every case. The important thing for those seriously injured to know is that they need to hire a lawyer who understands insurance coverage, bad faith, and knows how to increase the likelihood that full compensation for the injured party can be obtained.