American Physicians Insurance Exchange v. Garcia

In American Physicians Insurance Exchange v. Garcia, 876 S.W.2d 842 (Tex. 1994), an insurer had refused to settle a medical malpractice suit against its insured on the ground that the plaintiffs' claims were not covered by the policy. Garcia, 876 S.W.2d at 845. The plaintiffs settled with the physician, agreeing to enforce the judgment they obtained against him only against his insurer, and taking an assignment of his rights against the insurer. Id. The plaintiffs then sued the insurer solely as its insured's assignees, alleging that its failure to settle was negligent and violated article 21.21 and the DTPA. Id. at 845-46. Based on jury findings that the insurer's failure to settle was negligent and "an unfair practice in the business of insurance," the trial court rendered judgment against the insurer under article 21.21, and the court of appeals affirmed. Id. at 846. The Court held that: (1) the evidence conclusively established that the insurer discharged its duty to defend; (2) the insurer did not breach its Stowers duty to settle because it never received a settlement demand within policy limits. Id. at 843. The Court also emphasized that the record was "devoid of evidence that the insurer ever engaged in any unfair or deceptive act or practice as defined in the relevant statutes." Id. at 847. In American Physicians Insurance Exchange v. Garcia, 876 S.W.2d 842 (Tex. 1994), the Court stated that the Stowers remedy of shifting the risk of an excess judgment onto the insurer is not appropriate unless there is proof that the insurer was presented with a reasonable opportunity to settle within policy limits. Garcia, 876 S.W.2d at 849. The Court implied that a formal settlement demand is not absolutely necessary to hold the insurer liable, see id., although that would certainly be the better course. But at a minimum we believe that the settlement's terms must be clear and undisputed. That is because "settlement negotiations are adversarial and . . . often involve hard bargaining by both sides." Id.