Split decision reached in $15K residential water damage arbitration suit

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 26, 2018

PHILADELPHIA – Arbitrators in Philadelphia have announced they have found for the plaintiffs in a case filed against New Jersey-based landlords for $15,000 based around water-related damages, but that decision coincided with a decision in favor of the defendants on counts of bad faith and punitive damages.

Jason Valentino and Phyllis Valentino of Margate, N.J. first filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on June 2, 2017 versus Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, of Boston, Mass.

“On or about Dec. 6, 2016, while the policy was in full force and effect, plaintiff suffered direct physical loss and damage to the insured property believed to be the result of a peril insured against the policy, to wit, a sudden and accidental water discharge from a plumbing, heating, air conditioning, fire protective sprinkler system or household appliance, resulting in damage to the insured premises and those areas and to the extent set forth in the preliminary estimate of loss,” the complaint read.

“Notice of this covered loss was given to defendant in a prompt and timely manner and plaintiff, at all relevant times, fully complied with all of the terms and conditions required by the policy. Defendant, despite demand for benefits under the policy, has refused, without legal justification or cause, and continues to refuse, to pay to plaintiff monies owed for the damages suffered as a result of the loss. Solely as a result of the defendant’s failure and refusal to pay benefits to plaintiff as required under the policy, plaintiff has suffered loss and damage in an amount not in excess of $50,000,” the complaint continued.

The Valentinos believed their coverage denial was done without “a reasonable basis in fact” and constituted both a breach of the insurance contract and acting in bad faith, the latter due to sending multiple pieces of correspondence the plaintiffs believe conveyed false information with respect to the breadth and scope of the insurance policy, among other alleged violations of the insurance contract.

“For the reasons set forth above, defendant has acted in bad faith in violation of 42 Pa.C.S.A. Section 8371, for which defendant is liable for statutory damages including interest from the date the claim was made in an amount equal to the prime rate of interest plus three percent, court costs, attorney’s fees, punitive damages and such other compensatory and/or consequential damages as are permitted by law,” the suit stated.

According to the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and its Arbitration Center, it found for the plaintiffs on the breach of contract claim and awarded the Valentinos $15,000. However, it also decided in favor of Liberty Mutual on the bad faith and punitive damages claims.

Before said resolution reached in the arbitration session, for counts of breach of contract and bad faith, the plaintiffs were seeking damages not in excess of $50,000, plus interest, court costs, counsel fees and delay damages in this matter.

The plaintiffs were represented by Jonathan Wheeler and Mario Barnabei of the Law Offices of Jonathan Wheeler, in Philadelphia.

The defendant was represented by Pamela A. Carlos and Lily K. Huffman of Bennett Bricklin & Saltzburg, also in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas case 170504637

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

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Liberty Mutual Group Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

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