JULY 2010 BAD FAITH CASES NO BAD FAITH WHEN THE INSURER DID NOT LACK REASONABLE BASIS FOR DENYING CLAIM, EVEN IF COURT EVENTUALLY DETERMINES THAT THE BASIS IS INCORRECT (Philadelphia Federal)

In Spector v. Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, the insureds noticed that the paint on many of the windows in their house was peeling.  They hired a construction consultant to inspect their house, and he concluded that there were problems with the window and door frames, as well as signs of leakage in the master bedroom on the ceiling.  He recommended that the insureds hire an expert to inspect the area between the stucco walls and internal drywalls, and they did that.  The stucco inspector told them that moisture levels in different areas of the house revealed potential problems, but only a deconstruction of the walls would reveal the true condition of the substrate.

The insureds proceeded to hire a plastering company, the owner of which notified them that the house’s roof was incorrectly installed.  The insureds decided to have their roof redone and windows replaced before the stucco was removed for inspection.

Once the stucco was removed, the insureds learned the extent of the water damages, and they gave notice to the insurer by filing a claim.  The insurer sent a claims adjuster to evaluate the property, but upon his arrival, about 90% of the work had already been completed.

The insureds’ homeowner’s insurance policy specifically provided a coverage exclusion for water damage resulting from “continuous or repeated seepage or leakage of water or stream from any source over a period of weeks, months, or years.”  There was an exception to this exclusion, as the insurer would provide coverage if, due to water damage, loss was sudden and accidental and the insured reported the loss no later than 30 days after the date the loss was detected or should have been detected.  The policy also included an exclusion for “faulty, inadequate, or defective…workmanship, repair, construction,” or the materials used therein.

After inspecting the house, the claims adjuster notified the insureds that the insurer was denying their claim, citing the policy’s exclusion for defective construction and the thirty day notice provision for water damage.  The insureds filed a complaint, alleging both breach of contract and bad faith on the part of the insurer.

The court ruled in favor of the insureds on the breach of contract claim, holding that a contract existed and that the insureds complied with the rolling 30 day requirement that accompanied the exception to the water damage exclusion.  Because the insureds did not learn of the damage until less than a month before filing the insurance claim, the insurer incorrectly denied coverage.  However, the court also ruled that the insureds did not establish that the insurer lacked a reasonable basis for denying the claim and knew or recklessly disregarded the reasonable basis.  Therefore, the insurer prevailed on the bad faith claim against it.

Date of Decision:  July 15, 2010

Spector v. Fireman’s Fund Ins. Co., Civil Action No. 09-1311, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71072 (E.D. Pa. July 15, 2010) (Tucker, J.)

 

The district court’s decision was upheld on appeal as to damages, and the bad faith decision was not appealed.