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A Win for the Plaintiff in Bad Faith Insurance Claim

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St. Louis, MOA bad faith insurance claim that went through several legal phases was finally settled in the plaintiff's favor with the awarding of attorney's fees. Cindy Tripp's bad faith insurance claim accused her insurer, Western National Mutual (Western), of bad faith and breach of contract.

According to Insurance Law & Litigation Week (1/30/12), Tripp's nightmare began when her vehicle was hit from behind by another vehicle in September 2004. Tripp was not at fault, and she settled with the other driver, identified as Jeffrey Christensen, for $87,500.

Given that the accident left Tripp with ongoing medical issues, she sought $150,000 from her insurance company. While her full UIM coverage under her policy was $250,000, Western was contractually entitled to have that amount offset by $100,000. Thus, Tripp submitted a claim to Western for the $150,000 limit after the offset was taken into account.

Western offered no more than $10,000 in spite of a claims file that estimated Tripp's claim as having a range of $120,000 to $150,000. At this point, Tripp went looking for a bad faith insurance lawyer and initiated a bad faith lawsuit against her insurer.

At trial, a jury rejected the plaintiff's bad faith insurance claim but found in her favor on a breach of contract claim, awarding Tripp $150,000 in damages—which coincidentally equaled the amount she had initially sought from her insurer minus the offset.

Western did not quarrel with the breach of contract award, but bristled when the district court awarded the plaintiff an additional $65,000 in attorney's fees. Western appealed the ruling, arguing that because the jury rejected Tripp's claim relating to bad faith insurance, the plaintiff was not entitled to attorney's fees.

However, the Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that applicable precedent inherent with the South Dakota appellate court did not preclude the court from awarding attorney's fees even though a trial jury had rejected a bad faith claim, per se. Further, the Eight Circuit Court found that an award of attorney's fees was warranted given the defendant's vexatious refusal to pay, an act that was without reasonable cause, in the Court's view. The decision was handed down December 29 of last year.

An insurance bad faith attorney has likely seen every tactic brought to the fore by an insurance company in an effort to avoid paying a claim—a position that appears to be routine until their hand is forced. Sadly, some claimants will meekly accept such a position and retreat.

But many Americans, Cindy Tripp among them, refuse to merely roll over and play dead. They will stare down a bad faith insurance company with the help of a bad faith insurance lawyer, and utilize the legal tools at their disposal to do what's right, and just.


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