Insurance Bad Faith
Insurance law is about more than having a claim denied or receiving a “low ball” offer from an insurance adjuster. Because the negative experiences that people have with insurance companies are commonplace people often feel that they will be able to intimidate the insurance company by getting any lawyer available to write a letter or make a phone call. However, holding an insurance company legally accountable for misconduct requires someone who knows the law and knows how insurance companies operate on the inside.
Chris Heavens has such knowledge because he spent his early legal career representing insurance companies in tort cases and in coverage disputes with their policyholders. Mr. Heavens has litigation experience in vehicle, homeowner, life, disability, commercial and other lines of insurance. He has successfully litigated coverage actions and/or declaratory judgment actions for insurance companies and for policyholders. If you believe your insurance company is acting in bad faith, do not make the mistake of picking a lawyer with little or no experience with insurance issues. Talk to a lawyer with a history of taking on insurance companies and winning.
The knowledgeable Charleston, West Virginia, insurance bad faith attorneys of Heavens Law Firm are committed to representing policyholders who are the victims of bad faith denials or underpayment. We no longer represent insurance companies. We hold insurance companies liable for benefits owed to their insured policyholders, where the insurance companies are wrongly denying benefits or undervaluing claim payments. Our firm provides the highest quality legal representation to clients throughout West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but do not take our word for it: read what our clients are saying about us on our website.
As a young lawyer, Chris Heavens received high accolades from his insurance company clients for his intelligence, hard work, creativity and consistent positive results. His experience working within the insurance industry gives Mr. Heavens a unique insight into the most important issues when taking on insurance companies that violate the law or simply breach their duty of good faith to policyholders. Mr. Heavens’ instructional letter, 10 Secrets That Insurance Companies Don’t Want You to Know, is based on his 10 years of experience in representing insurance companies. 10 Secrets is a good reconnaissance tool for anyone who has to deal with an insurance company.
At Heavens Law Firm, we are very familiar with insurance regulations and we keep up with current developments in the law of insurance bad faith and insurance policy interpretation. We have a network of expert consultants with whom we work to evaluate cases and advance the client’s position when we believe the client has a meritorious case. Heavens Law Firm carefully screens all insurance bad faith cases and we do not accept frivolous cases. While we cannot guarantee a certain result, clients can rest assured that when Heavens Law Firm agrees to take their case that the case is a meritorious case worthy of fair compensation.
Insurance companies have a fiduciary duty to policyholders. An insurer has a duty to act in “good faith” toward the insured. This means reasonably fulfilling the terms of the contract as the parties intended. The implied covenant of good faith implies a promise to act fairly when handling claims. However, fulfilling the reasonable expectations of policyholders is not always in the best financial interests of the insurer. Insurance companies often have good economic reason to deny or underpay valid claims. When an insurer intentionally withholds or tries to underpay benefits owed under the policy, the insured may be entitled to compensation through a “bad faith” claim. Examples of bad faith include:
- Failing to promptly or thoroughly investigate a claim
- Unreasonable delay in payment
- Breach of duty under insurance contract
- Unreasonable denial of benefits
- Misleading or hidden terms in policy
- Unreasonable interpretation of policy language
- Refusal to settle case or reimburse loss
- Dishonest, deceptive, or fraudulent conduct
The underwriting stage of insurance is when an insurance company is charged with reviewing the application and investigating issues pertaining to insuring the risk and rating the premium to be paid. Sometimes insurance agents are paid on commission, so there is an incentive by the agents to push through the application and to give short shrift to underwriting. This sometimes results in post-claim underwriting when the policyholder eventually makes a claim on the policy. Post-claim underwriting is illegal. An insurance company cannot deny a claim based on its failure to do a thorough job during underwriting. However, in order to establish a strong case against the insurance company, the policyholder needs to have a lawyer that knows the legal issues and the insurance industry standards.
While insurers have the right to deny a claim, they also have a duty to honor their obligations under the contract. This may require paying what is due to the insured or providing good cause for denying the claim. Insurers looking out for their own bottom line try to minimize their liability for your loss. They do this by finding any reason to deny or underpay the insured. Many companies get away with this behavior because few policyholders challenge their actions. Even if a few people appeal the wrongful denial of their claim and recover a substantial verdict or settlement against the insurer, the company has still saved millions of dollars by denying the vast majority of claims that remain undisputed. Some insurance companies in the past have actually told their adjusters to start out every claim by denying the claim just to see which policyholders give up right away.
West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all state laws protect insured policyholders who are wrongfully denied benefits under an insurance claim. Unfortunately, most people become discouraged by the confusing terms and conditions in the contract or the myriad of letters and documents sent to them when they make a claim. The language seems purposely obscure and ambiguous. The specter of out-negotiating claims adjusters is likewise daunting, forcing most policyholders to give up. But a qualified insurance attorney can conduct a detailed examination of the contract and defend your rights in a bad faith claim. Contrary to what you might think, insurers are prohibited from attaching obscure terms and conditions that completely waive their duty to the insured. Any ambiguous or misleading terms are likewise construed in favor of the insured.
If the case goes to trial, the insured is entitled to all consequential losses and damages incurred as a result of the denial. This includes damages for emotional distress as well as attorneys’ fees and costs. Where the insurer has exhibited gross misconduct, the court may also award punitive damages to deter the company from causing future harm. However, state law provides a very limited time period to present a claim for loss; policyholders who wait too long to bring a claim for bad faith forfeit their right to relief. After an efficient review of your policy, a qualified insurance attorney can quickly determine whether your loss is covered and evaluate your claim.
If you have been denied benefits under an insurance policy, contact the experienced Charleston bad faith insurance lawyers at Heavens Law Firm immediately. Insurers tend to take a complaint more seriously when a lawyer becomes involved, but the reputation and background of the lawyer can make a big difference. Our firm has compelled many insurance companies to modify their earlier bad faith denial to avoid having to justify their actions in court. We have recovered substantial verdicts and settlements for clients in all types of bad faith claims. Our firm is committed to helping you obtain the compensation you deserve. Call 1-866-HEAVLAW for a free consultation or contact us online.