The Florida Supreme Court ruled on May 31, 2012, that “first party” bad faith claims against insurers are only available via Florida Statute 624.155. At issue was whether there exists a “common law” action for bad faith against a person’s insurance company. “Common law” claims are those that exist without a statute establishing the cause of action. For example, negligence in the operation of a car is a typical common law action.
This circumstance arises often in injuries from car accidents when dealing with uninsured motorist claims. Uninsured motorist coverage is purchased by the injured person to compensate him or her for personal injury claims that exceed the at-fault driver’s coverage, or where the at-fault driver has no bodily injury coverage. Florida does not require drivers to carry bodily injury coverage.
When the injured person makes a claim against his or her insurer for uninsured motorist benefits, the insurer does not always act reasonably in compensating that person. The injured person would then file suit against his or her own insurance company to recover the value of the claim.
If a jury awards an amount to the injured person that is greater than the amount of uninsured motorist coverage, then that person may have a “bad faith” claim against the insurer. Florida Statute 624.155 allows the person to bring a claim against the insurer for the full value of the jury award against the insurer, even if the award exceeds the uninsured motorist coverage. The determination of bad faith is based on whether the insurer acted fairly and reasonably in making a settlement offer with its own policyholder.
Whether the person could recover the full amount of the judgment without complying with Florida Statute 624.155, has been somewhat murky. Florida Statute 624.155 requires the injured person provide his or her insurance company with a formal notice, called a “civil remedy notice,” that allows the insurer 60 days to settle the claim. If the insurer does not do so, the injured person has preserved the right to pursue the uninsured motorist insurer for the full amount of a jury award.
A “common law” action to bring a claim for a jury award in excess of the uninsured motorist benefits comes into play where the injured person does not provide the insurer with the formal notice required by Florida Statute 624.155. Court decisions on whether such a claim is allowed have been somewhat inconsistent, resulting in uncertainty.
Through its ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has made it clear that the person with personal injuries in a car accident must file the formal notice in order to pursue his or her auto insurer for any award in excess of the policy limits. Because of the strict requirements of Florida Statute 624.155, it is important that someone injured in a car accident hire an attorney experienced in uninsured motorist claims. It is our law firm’s practice to file a civil remedy notice pursuant to Florida Statute 624.155 in every uninsured motorist case before we file suit.