Asymmetrical Combat: Bad Faith Liability in Insurance Recovery Cases

Journal of Emerging Issues in Litigation

PUBLISHED ON: June 15, 2022

Abstract: Policyholder counsel see claims that an insurer violated its duty of good faith and fair dealing is an essential tool in leveling the playing field in policyholder–insurer disputes, especially in high-stakes litigation. Insurance companies write the policies, employ lobbyists, exchange information with each other, and, of course, have more experience handling claims.  So, the author writes, bad faith allegations bring more balance to the relationship and provide a disincentive to “the profitable breach of the insurance promise.” He discusses above-policy limits risks for insurers, as well as attorneys’ fees, interest on unpaid claims, punitive damages, and more.

Bad faith insurance litigation presents high-stakes risks for insurance companies in the unbalanced battle between insurance companies and their policyholders. The asymmetric nature of the insurance claims process—insurance companies draft the insurance policies, lobby legislatures as an industry repeat litigant, exchange superior information among themselves, and have more experience with claims than any policyholder—means that policyholders need a counterbalance. Insurance company liability for bad faith and related above-policy limits liabilities can act as that counterbalance.

Insurance company bad faith and related doctrines prove useful because of the claims-handling calculus used to attempt to avoid coverage for a claim. Without more an insurance company denying a claim faces what it did at the outset—the amount of the covered claim. Insurance companies thus engage in the profitable breach of the insurance promise.

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William G. Passannante (wpassannante@andersonkill.com) is co-chair of Anderson Kill’s Insurance Recovery Group and is a nationally recognized authority on policyholder insurance recovery in D&O, E&O, asbestos, environmental, property, food-borne illness, and other insurance disputes, with an emphasis on insurance recovery for corporate policyholders and educational and governmental institutions.