As a personal injury lawyer, I regularly spend many hours poring over insurance policies, and critically examining insurance company procedures. Sometimes focusing on the technical aspects of the insurance business makes me forget about the significant impact that insurance can have in the “real world”.
This is why I was so interested to read sports columnist Mike Bianchi’s piece today in the Orlando Sentinel regarding the Ereck Plancher wrongful death lawsuit that was recently heard here in Orange County Circuit Court. As many readers will already know, an Orange County jury recently found the University of Central Florida Athletic Association liable for Mr. Plancher’s untimely death on a football training field and awarded Mr. Plancher’s parents $10 million in wrongful death damages.
Mr. Bianchi’s column focused on the efforts of the Athletic Association’s insurance carrier, Great American Insurance, and its lawyers, to appeal the jury’s verdict. Mr. Bianchi believes – as I think many people do – that the UCF Athletic Association and its football program have been through enough, and that it would clearly be in UCF’s best interests to pay the grieving parents and bring this matter to a close.
Mr. Bianchi’s column points out that the only thing keeping such a resolution and closure from happening is the Athletic Association’s insurance company, Great American. Mr. Bianchi posits that Great American cares only about the money – not about what is best for UCF or its football program.
Unfortunately, as an experienced Orlando accident attorney, I see this kind of decision-making from insurance companies frequently. It is not at all uncommon for us to see an insurance company put its own financial interests (i.e. saving money) ahead of its customers’ best interests (i.e. ending a claim or lawsuit, and getting on with life.)
In Florida, we have a set of laws that are supposed to focus insurance companies’ interests on their customers ahead of themselves. Broadly, these are known as “bad faith” laws. Bad faith laws are supposed to encourage insurance companies to settle or resolve claims or cases that they can, and should, in order to protect their customers’ interests. When insurance companies do not do this, they can be found to have been operating in “bad faith”. Bad faith laws inflict financial penalties upon insurance companies such as potentially requiring them to pay more than the contracted policy limits, or requiring them to pay attorneys’ fees.
Unfortunately, the political climate in Florida is currently such that insurance companies and their big business allies believe that the time is ripe to significantly weaken Florida’s bad faith legal structure. Only time will tell if Florida’ lawmakers and the governor will side with regular people and small businesses to help keep Florida’s bad faith laws strong.
If you have any questions regarding any Florida insurance issue, or bad faith particularly, please call us at 407-644-4444.