Bad Faith Attorneys’ Fees In Florida Car Accident Cases
Sometimes, in car accident cases, an Orlando personal injury attorney needs to prove that an insurance company acted in bad faith against their insured. This can allow their clients to collect more than the policy limits in some cases (mind you, this assumes that you hire a lawyer who will file a lawsuit when needed; some definitely will not). For example, if the damages in a case were clearly more than the insurance policy held by the defendant, but the insurance company refused to pay the policy limits, then a jury later might determine that the insurance company acted in bad faith.
Florida’s Insurance Bad Faith Law
To explain further, Florida has a statute that requires insurance companies to act in good faith when settling insurance claims. That means that insurance companies are required to settle when “under all the circumstances, it could and should have done so, had it acted fairly and honestly towards its insured and with due regard for the insured’s interest.”
Many people have no idea that insurance companies do everything possible to pay the least amount of money to auto accident victims. That includes insurance companies owned by the at-fault drivers, and uninsured motorist policies actually purchased by the victim before the accident.
So Florida law has a remedy, which is the bad faith statute. Now, mind you, the bad faith statute has many shortcomings, not the least of which is that an attorney can only pursue a bad faith lawsuit after the underlying car accident lawsuit has gone to verdict. So the process can take many years. But at least the threat of bad faith keeps some insurers from completely walking all over the rights of injured victims during settlement negotiations.
Another thing most non-lawyers (and many lawyers) do not realize is that laws protecting consumers and accident victims have been largely watered down over the past 20+ years. I have to reject far more cases than I accept for this reason.
But sometimes something goes right in the development of the law, and that happened recently.
Florida Supreme Court Helps Florida Car Accident Victims
Non-lawyers also may not know that once statutes are passed, unclear language in those statute is interpreted by courts. Those courts issue lengthy opinions explaining how laws will be interpreted and implemented. So that means that courts essentially play a very big role in lawmaking. And laws are constantly evolving based on changing court opinions. Orlando personal injury attorneys have to stay current on these laws, and research known issues again with new cases to make sure the law hasn’t changed.
Today I’m happy to announce some good news on that front, for car accident victims. This might not impact a huge percentage of cases, because bad faith only arises in a narrow class of car accident cases. Arguing that an insurance company acted in bad faith really only becomes possible when the plaintiff’s injuries, and the value of their damages, clearly exceeds whatever car insurance policy limits are involved.
How Florida’s Bad Faith Statute Might Come Into Play: A Simplified Example
For example, let’s say the at-fault driver had a $25,000 insurance policy. Then let’s say the plaintiff was injured in a car accident with very clear liability (proof of fault), such as a rear-end collision, and needed surgery with a price tag of $100,000. In that case, the plaintiff’s damages clearly exceed the policy limits. If the insurance company refused to pay, assuming they were given reasonable time to investigate, and settlement offers and terms were clearly communicated, then it might be possible for the plaintiff’s lawyer to utilize the bad faith statute to obtain a verdict in excess of the policy limits — for the full amount of the plaintiff’s damages (because that’s what the bad faith statute allows a plaintiff to do).
Florida Supreme Court Makes The Bad Faith Fight Just A Little Easier For Plaintiffs’ Lawyers
Recently the plaintiffs’ attorneys’ arsenal was strengthened by the Florida Supreme Court. The court decided that plaintiffs’ attorneys could obtain the time records of the insurance company attorneys during any bad faith litigation. This is important because plaintiffs’ attorneys are entitled to get their attorneys fees paid if they can prove bad faith. But then they have to prove that the amount of their fees is reasonable. Sometimes insurance companies argue (during bad faith lawsuits) that plaintiffs’ attorneys fees aren’t reasonable, particularly if they claim to have spent many hours fighting over a lower value claim.
But the Florida Supreme Court has now ruled that plaintiffs’ attorneys can get the time records of insurance defense attorneys to help prove that their own time was reasonable. The thinking is that if the insurance company lawyer spent many hours on any particular case, then that supports the idea that a plaintiffs’ lawyer acted reasonably in spending a similar number of hours.
How Does Helping Plaintiffs’ Lawyers Help Car Accident Victims?
So why is this a victory for plaintiffs? The reason is because plaintiffs lawyers have to get paid for their time, or they can’t pursue cases. Many laws have greatly eroded the ability of plaintiffs’ lawyers to get paid in a wide variety of accident & injury cases. That means they have to reject or not pursue cases, even when the injured victim really needs a lawyer, and can’t afford to pay their attorneys’ fees without an agreement to pay fees contingent upon the attorney recovering money for them.
If you were involved in a car accident case, or need an attorney to review a potential Florida bad faith claim, please give me a call, send me a text, or send me an email.Share