Tampa Area Driver’s Insurer Settles Although He is Not Found at Fault

A Tampa Bay area driver was recently in for a rude awakening when GEICO, his automobile liability insurer, tendered a check for $20,000 without his consent in connection with a recent accident in which he was involved but was not determined to be at fault. According to a report from the Tampa Bay Times, the motorist, Ricky Melendez (29) was hit by a stolen sport utility vehicle in which four teenagers were riding at 4:00 a.m. in early August. Three of the four teenagers were killed, while the fourth was injured. The accident occurred when Melendez was on his way to work at a grocery store when he was struck by a stolen Ford Explorer going 112 mph that did not have its lights on and that ran through an intersection. Melendez suffered broken bones that required surgery on his ankle as a result of the accident. He still walks with crutches, spends much of his day in a wheelchair and still has not been physically able to return to work.

Despite there being no police report or statement from authorities that Melendez was in any way at fault in the accident, GEICO tendered his policy limits to the families of the four boys even without a demand from their attorneys. The insurer claimed that it was protecting the interests of its policyholder, Mr. Melendez, but insurance lawyers contacted by the Tampa Bay Times speculated that the insurer was simply protecting itself. If suit had been filed by the families of any of the deceased or injured teenagers against Melendez, then Melendez could turn around and sue GEICO for refusing to pay the claim in good faith. This is what is known as a bad faith claim.

Bad Faith Claims Under Florida Law

Virtually all decisions in motor vehicle accident cases in Florida are driven by insurance companies. The defense attorneys hired to defend a driver against whose policy a claim is made are usually chosen by the insurer, paid by the insurer and handle large amounts of cases for that insurer. Even if the driver has a say in the resolution of the case, including whether it is ultimately settled, the insurer is often behind the scenes pulling the strings as to the actual decisions that are made. This could not be clearer than in the scenario in which Ricky Melendez recently found himself.

Florida Bad Faith Insurance Law

There is an implied covenant faith of fair dealing under Florida law that is implied into every insurance policy. An insurer, by providing insurance coverage in exchange for a premium payment by the insured party, agrees to handle any claims made against that insured under that policy in a fair manner. The insurer is required to conduct a thorough investigation of the claim and, if liability is clear, the insurer may have an obligation to settle the claim on behalf of its insured. Unfortunately, because insurance companies do not always live up to their duty to approach every claim in good faith, an area of insurance law called bad faith has developed. Sometimes liability regarding particular claims for damages are so clear cut that, if an insurer refuses to settle the case, then the insurer is said to be acting in bad faith.   That is, the insurer is unreasonably exposing the insured to the possibility a jury might award damages against the insured in excess of their policy limits. Take the scenario described above as an example, but imagine the roles were reversed. If Melendez had been the party at fault, but GEICO refused to pay the families of the four teenagers, then the insurer could potentially be acting in bad faith. If the families took Melendez (and GEICO) to court and won a judgment against him for millions of dollars, then Melendez might have a claim for bad faith against GEICO.

Contact Schwed Adams Sobel & McGinley if You Have Been Involved in a Motor Vehicle Accident and You are Concerned with How Your Insurer is Handling Your Claim

At Schwed Adams Sobel & McGinley, the majority of the cases that our firm handles relate to motor vehicle accidents. Our skilled personal injury attorneys have over 150 years of legal experience, including decades of experience in dealing with and negotiating with insurers. We know their various pressure points and are happy to use these in service our clients to ensure that the case is settled at the earliest opportunity, sometimes even before suit is filed. We represent both those who have been injured by another driver’s negligence as well as those whose insurance company is acting towards them in bad faith. Therefore if you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident or feel that your insurer is not treating a claim against you in good faith, contact our experienced personal injury attorneys today at contact @schwedlawfirm.com or (877) 694-6079 to discuss your situation today.

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