August 2008 Bad Faith Cases Insurer’s Motions In Limine Denied, But Plaintiff’s Were Granted To Preclude Evidence That Did Not Focus On Insurer’s Conduct; Trifurcation Denied (Middle District)

In Suscavage v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, the plaintiff initiated suit stemming from an automobile accident in which plaintiff sustained injuries.  At the time of the accident, plaintiff had an automobile insurance policy with her insurer which provided underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Plaintiff made a claim for UIM benefits in May 2004.  Before the arbitration hearing, in which plaintiff obtained an UIM award of $90,000, plaintiff filed an action asserting that defendants committed bad faith, and breached the insurance contract, by failing to properly evaluate the plaintiff’s claim and manipulating the arbitration process.  In response, the insurer filed a motion for summary judgment, which was denied.  In advance of the pre- trial conference, the parties filed motions in limine, and defendant field a motion to trifurcate the trial.
The insurer’s motion to trifurcate the trial of the breach of contract, bad faith action, and punitive damages claim was denied because it would lead to confusion, delay and inconvenience since the breach of contract claim and bad faith claim are interrelated.
In addition, the insurer filed two motions in limine to preclude evidence.  The first motion related to an independent medical expert of Nationwide’s, and the other motion related to a physician utilized by Nationwide who was allegedly an acquaintance of Nationwide’s defense counsel in the underlying UIM claim.  The court held that because the definition of “relevant” is broad, and the issue of bad faith is very fact specific, this evidence may be useful to the jury in determining whether the defendant acted in bad faith.  Therefore, the insurer’s motions in limine were denied.
Plaintiff’s motion in limine sought to preclude the following evidence:  plaintiff’s settlement demands and valuation of their UIM claim, the binding high/low agreement entered into by the parties prior to the arbitration, the ultimate award by the UIM arbitration, plaintiff’s conduct in selecting his arbitrator, and the alleged bias of the court appointed “neutral arbitrator”.   The court noted that in a bad faith claim the focus is on the insurer’sconduct. Therefore the court granted plaintiff’s motion in limine to preclude this evidence which related to plaintiff, and was irrelevant to the bad faith claim.
Date of Decision: June 3, 2008
Suscavage v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co.,2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43793 (M.D. Pa. June 3, 2008)( Munley, J.)
J.M.A.