Safeco Insurance Co. v. Beare – Bad Faith Claim Properly Abated, Not Dismissed

In most bad faith claims against auto insurers, the “bad faith” lawsuit is filed separately from the liability portion, lest it be deemed premature and dismissed.
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However, in the recent case of Safeco Insurance Co. v. Beare, plaintiff counsel amended the original third-party complaint alleging liability for a crash to include her own insurer as a defendant for failure to pay uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits.

Injury attorneys are more frequently employing this strategy, as it saves plaintiffs the trouble of having to refile the case. The recent decision in Beare, handed down by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, allows that unripe bad faith claims can simply be abated (rather than dismissed) until the outcome of the liability action is determined.

According to court records, plaintiff sued a third party defendant in 2011 following a car crash. She and the defendant reached a settlement agreement in October 2012. Soon after, plaintiff was granted leave to amend her complaint and add her own insurance carrier, both for underinsured motorist benefits and bad faith refusal to settle the claim. The insurer was served in early 2013.

The insurer moved to dismiss the bad faith claim as premature. Plaintiff instead asked the court to abate (set aside) the bad faith count.

Our Fort Lauderdale injury lawyers note trial court sided with plaintiff, agreeing to abate rather than dismiss the bad faith claim.

Upon appeal, insurer argued this action caused irreparable harm because, as the claim was amended to an original negligence lawsuit, filed more than a year prior to the insurer’s joinder, the insurer was barred from moving the claim to federal court. Therefore, the insurer argued it would be forced to litigate a bad faith claim in state court, losing the opportunity to remove it to federal court, unless the bad faith claim is severed and dismissed from the pending UM lawsuit. The insurer argued the 2000 Florida Supreme Court decision in Vest v. Travelers Insurance Co. required a first-party bad faith insurance claim filed before it’s ripe must be dismissed as premature.

Upon review, however, the Fourth District Court of Appeal found the instant case differed from Vest because determination there was between dismissal or summary judgment, not dismissal or abatement. Further, the appellate court noted defendant hadn’t proven trial court acted outside the law in issuing its ruling. It relied also on the more recent 2005 Florida Supreme Court decision of Allstate v. Ruiz, in which the high court held abatement was preferable when bad faith actions are filed together with the question of coverage.

Ultimately, what this ruling could mean for plaintiffs who are injured in Florida crashes is a swifter process that may yield more timely results – and ultimately fewer expenditures.

Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

Additional Resources:
Safeco Insurance Co. v. Beare, Sept. 17, 2014, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal
More Blog Entries:
Gallon v. GEICO – Negligent Misrepresentation Claim to Proceed, Sept. 24, 2014, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog