In a post several days ago, the co-author of this blog, Parks Chastain, commented that Tennessee’s statutory bad faith penalty should rarely be awarded against an insurer. In reaching this conclusion, he noted a 1961 federal district court case that stated that the the bad faith penalty should not be awarded unless the insurer’s conduct involves moral turpitude. While I won’t bore you with the numerous cases in Tennessee which clearly demonstrate a different standard, I would like to point out one of the most obvious reasons why a finding of "conduct involving moral turpitude" is unnecessary for an an award of bad faith.
The bad faith statute itself, T.C.A. 56-7-105 doesn’t speak in terms of "bad faith," but rather states the penalty is appropriate when "the refusal to pay the loss was not in good faith." Such a standard has no inference of any required vileness or depravity such to constitute "conduct involving moral turpitude."
So, you might ask, what is good faith? Obviously, the answer to that question depends on the circumstances, but here are a few pointers:
- An insurance company should not make a strained interpretation of an insurance policy. Every insurance company in Tennessee knows that a policy provision capable of two reasonable interpretations must be construed in favor of the insured.
- An insurance company should never attempt to settle a claim for less than what is owed under the policy.
- An insurance company should not condition payment of one portion of a claim until the entire claim is resolved or on the insured’s agreement to drop other portions of the claim
- An insurance company must fully investigate a claim and make sure it has all available information before denying a claim.
- An insurance company must not rely on biased or speculative information and opinions in denying a claim.
- An insurance company must treat its insured’s interests equal to that of its own.
These are just a few examples, but hopefully my readers get the point. When it comes right down to it, the absence of good faith is analogous to pornography – you know it when you see it. Also, don’t forget about Tennessee’s Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act, which provides some very solid rules about good faith claims handling. For a discussion of that statute, see my previous post here.