What happens when an insurance company’s conduct is so explosive and unlawful that it may be ordered to pay massive and historic punitive damages as well as change the way it conducts business? With unparalleled legal and policy expertise, nationally acclaimed insurance dispute law firm Corless Barfield Trial Group faces off against Big Insurance to stop and prevent sweeping bad faith insurance practices.
In a case styled Bingham v. Tower Hill Preferred Insurance Company, the Court on September 1, 2020 granted Elise Bingham’s motion for leave to seek punitive damages in a loss occurring on November 11, 2010 for sinkhole damage. Despite the fact Tower Hill Preferred Insurance Company (“Tower Hill”) was aware an engineering firm had confirmed damage to the policyholder’s home as being caused by sinkhole activity, Tower Hill spent more than four years defending the claim and refusing benefits to Elise Bingham (“Mrs. Bingham”). As more fully detailed in the Third Amended Complaint, after abandoning its defenses on November 4, 2014, on the eve of trial, Tower Hill was sued for “bad faith” under Section 624.155, Florida Statutes.
During its multilayered investigation of the insurer’s bad faith practices, Corless Barfield Trial Group discovered more than 30 other insureds who faced the same allegations and tactics taken against Mrs. Bingham by Tower Hill. These included the use of spurious allegations of concealment and fraud, despite the fact Mrs. Bingham provided all documents requested and information sought by Tower Hill in its adjustment of the claim. Additionally, Tower Hill used a formula for assessing the amount due, rather than basing its claims offers on the undisputed amount of the damages, which exceeded Mrs. Bingham’s policy limits.
Without making any factual findings, the Court ruled that Corless Barfield Trial Group had sufficiently documented evidence of a potential general business practice, as set forth under Section 624.155(4), establishing bad faith on the part of the insurer. A copy of the Complaint detailing Mrs. Bingham’s theories and supporting evidence can be read here.
At the hearing on the motion to add punitive damages, Corless Barfield Trial Group presented evidence of similar conduct in other claims, as well as the willful and wanton denial of benefits, which the Court found to be sufficient to permit Mrs. Bingham to now seek punitive damages against Tower Hill.
Tower Hill continues to deny wrongdoing and disputes any allegations of a general business practice to deprive any insureds of benefits due. A copy of Tower Hill’s answer to the Third Amended Complaint can be reviewed here.
“Some cases compel juries to award significant punitive damages in order to send a message to the insurance company to stop its illegal practices and change the way it does business. This is one such case that has the potential to become a real-life nightmare for Tower Hill,” states Ted Corless, Esq.
“Time and again, Tower Hill failed to investigate Mrs. Bingham’s claim properly. Time and again, Tower Hill made false statements, took actions to leverage her to accept less than what was due to her. We hope that through this next phase of legal action, we can bring the truth to light, create accountability for Tower Hill’s wrongdoing, and help prevent such financial and emotional misery from happening to anyone else,” notes Ted Corless.
Practically from the start, Tower Hill did not follow its own policies and procedures resulting in Mrs. Bingham’s claim being seriously compromised. Thankfully, the law provides a recourse. Florida law permits insureds to seek punitive damages against an insurance company after establishing by evidence in the record that the violation of the insured’s rights occurred with such frequency as to indicate a “general business practice.” See Section 624.155(4).
The process for seeking punitive damages obligates the insured to make a “proffer” of evidence into the record to support the existence of general business practice to not only act against the insureds in a “willful or wanton” manner but also that other, similarly situated insureds suffered the same fate.
Under the law, the court serves as “gatekeeper” to assess the evidence proffered by the insured as to why punitive damages should be sought against the insurer. This is mainly due to protect insurance companies from both the cost of such claims and the existential threat to any insurance company’s existence. In its consideration of the proffer, courts do not determine whether punitive damages should be paid, but instead focus on whether an insured has demonstrated a basis to seek recovery of such damages when presented to a jury.
Insurers have a substantive right not to face punitive damages unless a court has found that an insured’s theory and proffer meet its threshold. In this case, the Court unmistakably held that Tower Hill can face punitive damages.
Corless Barfield Trial Group seeks any further information as to the allegations in the Complaint. If you are insured with Tower Hill or were insured under any of the policies sold under the Tower Hill Insurance brand, and you believe that you have suffered a similar fate as described in the Complaint, we’d appreciate the opportunity to discuss these matters with you. You are encouraged to contact us about this investigation and your legal rights and options by calling 813-258-4998 (Ted Corless, Esq.) or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. All communications remain confidential.
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About Corless Barfield Trial Group
Corless Barfield Trial Group, a nationally recognized high-stakes insurance dispute law firm, has over 75 years of combined experience in the area of insurance law. Founded in 2012 by Ted Corless, the firm has recovered more than $500 million for policyholders and personal injury clients throughout Florida. Ted Corless has more than 25 years of experience in federal and state courts, and he has represented owners of multi-unit dwellings, property managers, homeowners, Homeowners Associations, Community Association Managers, and Licensed Community Association Managers in more than 50 jury trials. Specializing in insurance disputes and personal injury law, Corless Barfield Trial Group differentiates itself with deep legal expertise, a mastery of technology in the courtroom, and a compelling manner of storytelling.