Insurer to pay $1.5M after missing Tyger River deadline  

An at-fault driver’s insurance company will pay $1.5 million to a man who was injured in a car crash, after the insurer failed to meet a five-day deadline to reply to the plaintiff’s demand for a settlement for the driver’s full policy limits. 

Justin Bamberg of Bamberg represented the plaintiff, who was driving home when the defendant crossed into the plaintiff’s lane and struck his vehicle head-on, leaving the plaintiff entrapped in the vehicle with a broken femur.

Bamberg

Pursuant to a confidentiality agreement, many of the details of the case were withheld, including the identities of the parties and the insurer and its attorneys. 

Bamberg said that the defendant’s insurer accepted liability and informed him of the available limits of $25,000 per person, $50,000 per accident, and $25,000 in property damage limits, the minimum coverage allowed under state law. Bamberg said that the claims adjuster contended that the case wasn’t an aggravated liability claim, which must include not only negligence, but recklessness. 

“We knew we had to be aggressive, focus on our own documentation, and prepare for an insurer bad-faith or negligence case because the liability limits were insufficient for our client’s injuries,” Bamberg said, adding that on a Thursday afternoon, he overnighted a five-day Tyger River demand—including $22,000 in medical bills—for the policy limits. 

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Bamberg said that after the deadline expired at 5 p.m. the following Tuesday, the claims adjuster called and sent a letter acknowledging the missed deadline, claiming that the demand didn’t enter the claims file until after close of business. Bamberg said that this was untrue and that the adjuster was hoping to have the deadline tolled by making the plaintiff “fall into the proverbial bad-faith, ‘what is reasonable’ trap” since the deadline had expired just hours before. 

Because just two of the five days were business days (the Monday was a federal holiday), Bamberg said that correspondence and conversations over the following 24 hours would be crucial regarding his ability to make the Tyger River demand hold up in court given the recent opinion in Columbia Insurance Company v. Reynolds. 

In June, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held in Reynolds that no reasonable jury could find that the insurer refused to settle unreasonably and in bad faith by failing to accept the 10-day demand by plaintiffs’ counsel at the outset of a case, depriving the insurer of the right to conduct a reasonable investigation.  

In South Carolina, there is no bright-line rule for time-limit demands or mandatory period in which insurers must respond, but insurers have a duty to settle a personal injury claim if it is the reasonable thing to do. If an insurer refuses to settle within policy limits, it will be liable for the entire amount of the judgment, even if the amount exceeds policy limits. 

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Bamberg said that when he declined to accept the liability limits, the claims adjuster became angry and hurled insults. 

“All I could do was wonder what would make him so angry to the point of personal insults over an insurance claim, Bamberg said. “I knew there had to be more to the adjustment on this claim than he was letting on.” 

Bamberg said that the claims supervisor declined his offer to negotiate and sent a liability limits check to Bamberg’s office. Within an hour, Bamberg said, the check was being returned to sender, along with a lawsuit filed against the at-fault driver. Bamberg extended a two-week opportunity for the insurer to settle before serving the defendant. 

Bamberg said that the insurer had only five days to tender the policy limits, but it had known for two months that the reasonable thing to do was to immediately offer the limits to the plaintiff rather than sitting idly by. 

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“It could have offered these insufficient limits two months before when the supervisor himself determined our claim was valued in excess of the policy,” Bamberg said. 

The day before the new deadline expired, the insurer accepted the settlement bracket proposed by the plaintiff and suggested mediation, Bamberg said. He added that he settled the case “rather than dying on the sword of a five-day Tyger River demand sent on a holiday weekend,” should an unfavorable court opinion be written while the case was pending. 

“While I believed everything would hold up in court, at the very end of the day, as we say in our neck of the woods, the pigs get fed and hogs slaughtered,” Bamberg said. “We turned a $25,000 liability policy into a $1.5M umbrella policy in just a few months.” 

SETTLEMENT REPORT — MOTOR VEHICLE CRASH 

Amount: $1.5 million 

Injuries alleged: Broken femur 

Case name: Withheld 

Court: Withheld 

Mediator: Doyet Early III of Mount Pleasant 

Date of settlement: Nov. 2 

Insurance carrier: Withheld 

Attorney for plaintiff: Justin Bamberg of Bamberg Legal in Bamberg 

Attorneys for defendant: Withheld 

The post Insurer to pay $1.5M after missing Tyger River deadline  (access required) first appeared on South Carolina Lawyers Weekly.

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