Judge affirms appraisal award in insurance dispute; plaintiffs allowed to continue with bad faith claim

By Jon Campisi | Jun 20, 2013

A Montgomery County couple will be allowed to respond to a summary judgment motion

A Montgomery County couple will be allowed to respond to a summary judgment motion

filed by an insurer seeking to put an end to litigation dating back to 2011 when the plaintiffs filed suit for breach of contract and bad faith stemming from damage done to their property.

But in his June 17 memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson, of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, simultaneously granted a defense motion to confirm an appraisal award that arose during previous stages of the litigation.

The case dates back to the spring of 2011, when Fort Washington, Pa. residents Bradley and Caroline Williamson filed suit against New York-based Chubb Indemnity Insurance Company over allegations that the defendant failed to indemnify the couple for “accidental direct physical loss to the insured premises,” even though the insurer acknowledged that the damages in question should be covered under the plaintiffs’ insurance policy.

The lawsuit, which was transferred to the federal court in Philadelphia later that fall, did not appear to elaborate on the specifics with regard to the loss suffered at the property, nor did it state whether the property in question was residential or commercial.

Baylson, the federal judge, dismissed without prejudice the breach of contract claim that had been lodged against the insurance company in early March 2012, the record shows, and the jurist further ordered the parties to engage in the appraisal process required by the insurance policy.

Consideration of the bad faith claim was deferred until the appraisal process produced an award, which ended up occurring in December of last year.

The record shows that the defendant conceded coverage arising from the property loss highlighted in the lawsuit, and valued the plaintiffs’ claim at $197,355.38; the company subsequently paid out that amount to the couple.

The plaintiffs, however, disputed the insurer’s valuation, and the parties then began the appraisal process, which ended with an award in the amount of $203.450.11, which represented $6,094.73 more than the insurer’s original valuation.

The extra money was paid to the plaintiffs earlier this year, according to Baylson’s memorandum.

Under Pennsylvania law, an appraisal award is subject to confirmation the same as an arbitration award.

The latest stage of the litigation concerned whether or not the plaintiffs’ bad faith claim could move forward, since the judge already determined that the court was obliged to confirm the award since the plaintiffs’ arguments against confirmation were deemed to be “unavailing,” Baylson wrote.

(The plaintiffs had argued against confirmation because, as they contend, the court erred in compelling appraisal, rendering the award invalid. The court ended up rejecting the argument).

Baylson ultimately decided to allow the plaintiffs to file a new response to the insurer’s motion for summary judgment, writing that the couple must identify specific factual disputes, with supporting citations to the factual record of the case.

The judge gave the couple 14 days in which to file their supplemental memorandum.

Baylson also wrote that if the plaintiffs plan to appeal, they must wait until final judgment has been rendered on the outstanding issues in the case.

The lawyer who originally filed suit on behalf of the Williamson’s was Joseph A. Zenstein, of Philadelphia-based Claims Worldwide LLC.

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