YOUR BAD FAITH JURY INSTRUCTION AGAINST AN INSURER IS IMPORTANT

A statutory bad faith claim against an insurer is derived from Florida Statute s. 624.155.  A bad faith claim against a first party insurer, such as a property insurer, must be statutory.  Check out the hyperlink of the statute, but a party must first file a Civil Remedy Notice identifying the statutory violations to preserve the statutory bad faith claim giving the insurer an opportunity to cure.

In a noteworthy case, Cooper v. Federated National Insurance Company, 44 Fla. L. Weekly D2961a (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), the Fifth District Court of Appeal dealt with the jury instruction for an insured’s statutory bad faith claim against their property insurer.  The insured filed a bad faith claim predicated on the property insurer violating the provisions of Florida Statute s. 626.9541(1)(i)3, which involves unfair claim settlement practices.  The insured had a jury trial and submitted a proposed jury instruction regarding bad faith that tracked the very essence of their bad faith claim and was modeled after s. 626.9541(1)(i)(3).  The trial court, however, denied this jury instruction, instead adopting a standard jury instruction for bad faith.  The jury returned a verdict in favor of the property insurer and the insured appealed arguing it was reversible error for the trial court NOT to present to the jury their bad faith jury instruction.  The Fifth District agreed and ordered a new trial finding that the trial court’s failure to present the jury instruction amounted to a miscarriage of justice.

Florida’s standard bad faith jury instruction is not the be-all-end-all of jury instructions for bad faith. Specifically for a statutory bad faith claim, the standard jury instruction would not fully model a party’s theory of bad faith which would be modeled after a statutory violation.  The lack of a proper jury instruction is not compensated for by an attorney’s closing argument as to the insured’s theory of the case:

Leaving it to the parties’ attorneys to explain to the jury in closing argument what legal principles apply is an inadequate substitute for an accurate, relevant, and complementary instruction that contains legal principles not covered in a standard instruction.  Contrary to [the property insurer’s] argument, we do not believe that the standard bad faith jury instruction sufficiently informed the jury of all the relevant law regarding bad faith. Nor do we believe that, under the facts of this case, the acts constituting a violation of section 626.9541(1)(i)3. were subsumed within the standard jury instruction.

Cooper, supra (internal quotations omitted).

A jury instruction is important and is nothing to sneeze at.  Here, the Fifth District thought so as it reversed a jury’s verdict finding that the failure to include a bad faith jury instruction that modeled the theory of the case and specific statutory violations the insured was aiming to prove was reversible error.

 

Please contact David Adelstein at dadelstein@gmail.com or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.

 

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