Neal v. GEICO General Insurance Company—(J. Warner, 4DCA; 2/22/23).
This is a plaintiff-friendly decision in a bad faith case. The plaintiff’s car was stolen, and she made a claim with GEICO and reported the theft to the police, but both the police and GEICO became suspicious that Appellant had actually sold the car after they located the car and interviewed the person in possession of it. Evidence ultimately showed, however, that it was the sale that was fake (the title and bill of sale were forged), so the car really had been stolen. Despite this, GEICO acted on its earlier suspicion and denied the claim for the lost car.
Neal sued for breach of contract, and she also served a civil remedy notice (“CRN”) on GEICO and the Department of Financial Services.
GEICO sent a letter to Neal’s attorney sticking with its story that the car was sold, not stolen, omitting all information about the subsequent investigation showing that the sale was faked. GEICO did not complain that the CRN was deficient.
GEICO ultimately caved and paid $20,000, and the final judgment gave Neal 30 days to file her section 624.155 bad faith claim. She did so.
GEICO moved to dismiss the bad faith claim for failure to attach the insurance policy and failure to state a proper claim for damages, but again did not complaint about the CRN. The motion was denied, and GEICO filed an answer and affirmative defenses that did not mention the CRN.
The case proceeded well into discovery and a trial was set. Eighteen months into the case—and three months prior to trial—GEICO moved to dismiss based on alleged deficiencies in the CRN. The lower court denied the motion but did allow GEICO to amend its affirmative defenses to add a claim about the deficiency of the CRN. Neal filed a reply that argued that GEICO was estopped from raising a deficiency in the CRN due to waiver. GEICO then moved for summary judgment on the CRNinadequacy issue, arguing that the CRN failed to adequately describe the violation, failed to cite specific policy language, and failed to articulate curative action sought. The lower court agreed and granted summary judgment. Neal moved for rehearing, but it was denied. Neal appealed.
The DCA did not reach the merits of the whether the CRN was sufficient. It agreed that the insurer waived any objection to the CRN that was not raised in the response to the CRN. “[T]he purpose of the CRN is to facilitate and encourage good-faith efforts to timely settle claims before litigation, not to vindicate continuing efforts to delay.” Reversed and remanded for further proceedings on the bad faith claim.