Geico Insurance Company

PHILADELPHIA – A Philadelphia federal court has granted a motion for judgment to dismiss a claim of bad faith against Geico Insurance Company, in a lawsuit revolving around underinsured motorist insurance benefits.

On Sept. 19, Judge Michael M. Baylson granted Geico’s motion for judgment on the pleadings without prejudice, with respect to the case filed by plaintiff Vincent R. Zinno.

On May 14, 2013, Zinno was involved in an automobile accident, suffering severe and permanent injuries – and the driver who caused the accident had an insurance policy with bodily injury limits inadequate to compensate Zinno for his injuries.

“On Jan. 28, 2015, plaintiff made a written claim for underinsured motorist coverage under the policy he held with Geico. Defendant has, thus far, declined to offer plaintiff a settlement and has indicated that it will not refer the claim to arbitration,” Baylson said.

Subsequent to the refusal to settle, Zinno filed suit on Feb. 19, 2015, against Geico for failure to award benefits under his underinsured motorist coverage. The suit contained two claims; breach of contract and bad faith, under 42 Pa.C.S. Section 8371. 

“On April 19, defendant Geico filed a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Count II of the complaint. Plaintiff filed a response on April 26, and defendant filed a reply on May 2,” Baylson stated.

Baylson termed the issue at argument in this case is whether Zinno stated a valid claim for bad faith, which allows a plaintiff “to recover interest, punitive damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees for bad faith conduct by insurers in denying benefits or handling claims.”

Baylson added, “To state a claim for bad faith, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to establish that (1) the insurer lacked a reasonable basis for denying the benefits under the policy and (2) the insurer knew or recklessly disregarded its lack of reasonable basis.”

Baylson called Zinno’s allegations “conclusory” and “insufficient” without more information.

“There is one additional allegation here that is more factual in nature. Plaintiff alleges that defendant has refused to pay insurance proceeds based on an unreasonable opinion of a physician that Geico has ‘often used’ to deny claims,” Baylson said. “The alleged ‘unreasonable report’ stated that plaintiff suffered no substantial injury. Plaintiff alleges this is unreasonable given the reports done by plaintiff’s treating physicians which reach opposite conclusions.”

At its essence, Zinno’s allegation, according to the court, is the defendant’s expert reached an opposite conclusion compared to his own experts – but that without more evidence, that does not constitute an example of bad faith.

Baylson indicated Zinno is basically asking the court to convert the motion at issue to one for summary judgment.

“Notably, the evidence attached to plaintiff’s brief, and the arguments presented based on this evidence arguably makes the allegation regarding the unreasonableness of Geico’s doctor’s report more plausible. Plaintiff’s brief also adds further context to its other allegations that is not present in the complaint,” Baylson explained, saying the court was limited to what it could consider when ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings.

“Defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings as to Count II of Plaintiff’s complaint, bad faith under 42 Pa. C.S. Section 8371, is granted without prejudice,” Baylson said.

The plaintiff is represented by Michael J. Clement of Wisler Pearlstine, in Blue Bell.

The defendant is represented by Robert J. Cahall and Scott J. Tredwell of McCormick & Priore, in Philadelphia.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-00792

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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