In an opinion filed on March 8, the California Court of Appeal, Second District, reversed a jury verdict against an insurer because the jury failed to make an explicit finding that the insurer acted unreasonably in some respect. In Alexander Pinto v. Farmers Ins. Exch., Case No. B295742, the court held that a bad faith claim requires a finding that the insurer acted unreasonably in some respect. Because the jury made no such finding (because the verdict form lacked any question asking the jury to make such a finding), the court vacated the verdict in favor of the insured and remanded the case for further proceedings.
The coverage dispute arose out of a single-car traffic accident. The victim offered to settle his claim against the vehicle owner in exchange for payment of the vehicle owner’s insurance policy limits. The offer lapsed before the insurer accepted it. The victim then obtained a judgment in excess of the vehicle owner’s insurance policy limits. The vehicle owner then assigned her claims against the insurer to the victim. The victim then sued the insurer alleging that the insurer should be held liable for its alleged bad faith failure to settle. The victim prevailed at trial against the insurer.
At issue in the appeal was the lack of an express finding by the jury that the insurer had acted unreasonably (again, the lack of an express finding was because the jury had not been asked this question on the verdict form). The court explained, “[t]he issue is whether, in the context of a third party insurance claim, failing to accept a reasonable settlement offer constitutes bad faith per se. We conclude it does not.”