A U.S. District court jury in Missoula, Montana awarded a Bigfork doctoral student $5.3 million, finding Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company acted in bad faith. This verdict, which included $3.5 million in punitive damages, is the largest bad-faith insurance verdict in Montana history.
Plaintiff, a 32 year-old salmon ecologist, suffered brain injuries in a head-on collision. Her insurance policy included $1.5 million in uninsured motorist benefits.
Why did the jury find bad faith in Fireman’s Fund’s refusal to pay? Well, in the four years after Fireman’s Insurance received notice of plaintiff’s, it did virtually no investigation at all. Fireman’s Fun collected one lousy page of her medical records, never sought a statement from the Plaintiff, or requested an IME or did anything to support their denial.
I’m as cynical about insurance companies as the next personal injury lawyer. But I have to believe that this case fell below the radar of Fireman’s Fund and this was the act of a few isolated claims adjusters because this case is just the classic definition of bad faith. This case reads like John Grisham’s book Rainmaker. Insurance companies just do not act this way in jurisdictions that have first party bad faith because they know that they are inviting this kind of claim and publicity.