* It is almost impossible to obtain a summary judgment finding an insurer acted in bad faith allowing an insured to recover tort damages. However, it is not impossible, and the facts stated by the court in Shawnee Tabernacle Church And Az Learning Day Care v. Guideone Insurance, Civil Action No. 16-5728, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (April 23, 2019) should teach an important lesson to insurers who fail to maintain a staff of professional, well trained insurance adjusters. Failure to do so can be, as it was for GuideOne, devastating.
With respect to a period between mid-June and mid-December, however, the facts are undisputed. During that time, Defendant GuideOne acted in bad faith as a matter of law by ignoring the claim and withholding coverage when it possessed all of the necessary information to determine coverage. But as to the delays before and after this period of time, there are factual disputes and issues of causation.
This case centers on a loss that resulted from water damage on the property of Plaintiffs Shawnee Tabernacle Church and AZ Learning Daycare. The property in question was covered by an insurance policy that Defendant GuideOne Mutual Insurance Company ("GuideOne") issued. The policy's provisions spelled out the obligations of the insurance company and the insured in the event of a loss. Of particular relevance to this case, a vacancy provision precluded water damage coverage if less than 31% of the building was rented or used for customary operations, unless the property was under construction or renovation.
The loss in this case occurred on January 13, 2015, and on the same day, Plaintiffs reported the claim to GuideOne. GuideOne assigned adjuster Brian Baskin. Baskin received an initial report, spoke with Pastor Bloom of Shawnee Tabernacle Church, and made a preliminary estimate of damages prior to inspecting the property. Mr. Baskin inspected the property on January 15, 2015.
Baskin in his deposition stated he "didn't see any evidence that there was activity in the school side of the structure," and he knew a school that previously rented the building had vacated the property in October 2014. In the same deposition he admitted to seeing some renovation work during the inspection, he claimed it was limited to "one room in the back top second level" and maintained that he "did not see that to be renovations of the building."