Insurance Bad Faith Summary Judgment Cases In California

The reasonableness of an insurer's claims handling conduct in a first party coverage case becomes a question of law, properly determined on summary judgment, where the evidence is undisputed and but one inference can be drawn. (Lee v. Crusader Ins. Co. (1996) 49 Cal. App. 4th 1750 57 Cal. Rptr. 2d 550 summary judgment affirmed; Carlton v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co. (1994) 30 Cal. App. 4th 1450, 1459 36 Cal. Rptr. 2d 229 same; Globe Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court (1992) 6 Cal. App. 4th 725 8 Cal. Rptr. 2d 251 writ issued to compel summary judgment.) In Lee v. Crusader Ins. Co., supra, 49 Cal. App. 4th 1750, the court affirmed a summary judgment for an insurer in a first party bad faith claim arising out of an arson fire that destroyed the insured's liquor store during the Los Angeles riots. Although the insurer strongly doubted the validity of the arson charges, it conducted no independent investigation, choosing to wait until the insureds were acquitted in a criminal prosecution. Lee held the insurer had a "reasonable basis for deferring action on the insureds' claim." (Id. at p. 1759.) In like fashion, in Carlton v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., supra, 30 Cal. App. 4th 1450, the court affirmed an automobile insurer's summary judgment in a bad faith case alleging unreasonable delays in the payment of the insured's collision claim for damages to an antique car. The court noted that the insurer promptly paid the initial cost estimates for repairing the car, and then reopened its file once the insured reported that the costs would be greater than anticipated. While agreeing that the insurer might have handled the claim more "expeditiously in the period after . . . the insurer indicated it would reinspect the car," Carlton held the delay was not so unreasonable as to give rise to bad faith liability, particularly since the insured himself delayed in submitting the requested paperwork. (Id. at p. 1459.) In Globe Indemnity Co. v. Superior Court, supra, 6 Cal. App. 4th 725, the court directed that summary judgment be granted to an automobile insurer which delayed paying any first party benefits until the insured submitted to an examination under oath and agreed to a medical examination. (The insured had been injured while riding as a passenger on a stolen motorcycle.) According to the court, "There can be no 'unreasonable delay' until the insurer receives adequate information to process the claim and reach an agreement with the insureds." (Id. at pp. 730-731.) In Waters v. United Services Auto. Assn. (1996) 41 Cal. App. 4th 1063 48 Cal. Rptr. 2d 910, the court reversed a judgment of $ 1.3 million in emotional distress damages for insureds who became embroiled in a protracted dispute with their homeowner's insurer regarding rebuilding costs for their fire-damaged home. The insureds never put on any evidence that they "spent a penny of their own" as a result of the insurer's delayed payments. (Id. at p. 1069.) Waters declined to adopt a rule that a first party insurer "which refuses to pay benefits claimed to be due under the policy did so at its own risk. Clearly, both logic and good policy dictate that no such rule ever be applied in first party cases." (Id. at p. 1081.)