Your Aug. 29 article “Georgia Chamber Sides With Nationwide Over Bad-Faith Judgment” highlights only the latest in an orchestrated campaign of dubious claims made by the Georgia Chamber and the insurance industry over the years. The article quotes the Chamber’s claim that the Camacho v. Nationwide case is an example of a “recent epidemic of bad-faith litigation in Georgia.” We decided to take a closer look at the facts of this so-called “prime example.”
As it turns out, the case now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is a prime example, but not one that is so recent, and not one that supports the premise the Chamber or its valued member Nationwide Insurance Co. would have you believe. The facts of the case are perhaps best summarized by the trial court—not by the Georgia Chamber, Nationwide, or even the surviving family:
“Without going into all the evidence at trial, the court notes there was certain evidence from which the jury could infer that plaintiffs were being jacked around in their settlement negotiations, giving Nationwide’s conduct the flavor of bad faith. For example, as noted above, prior to Mr. McAleer’s (the plaintiff’s attorney) involvement, plaintiffs testified that Sharon Wilson (Nationwide’s adjuster) attempted to settle the wrongful death and estate claims for less than the $100,000 policy limits despite her determination that [its insured's] liability was clear and that the damages far exceeded the value of the policy. Wilson’s claims log also reflects that she requested authority to settle under a limited release but that Nationwide was requesting a general release. (Trial Transcript Doc. 186 at pp. 185, 232-33.) When questioned about her request for authority to settle under a limited release, Wilson stated that must have been a typo and that the log entry should have read general release, though she never made any attempt to correct this alleged error in the log. (Id. at 185-86.) Wilson also testified that the requirement of a general release was a directive from her superiors. (Id. at 266.)” Camacho, et al. v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., ___ F.Supp.3d ___, 2016 WL 30359833, p.12, FN 8 (N.D. Ga.)
Wow! Did Nationwide really offer less than the $100,000 limits in a clear liability wrongful death claim to the surviving family before the family hired a lawyer? After the family hired a lawyer, did Nationwide really fail to agree to a standard limited liability release, a release that would have protected its premium-paying policyholder’s personal assets from the surviving family’s claims? Does this happen every day? Is this case a “prime example” of what really happens in the real world?
As for the first two questions, the jury system must be preserved to provide answers and juries must be free, without interference from the government, to impose liability when an insurance company’s negligence damages its policyholder.
As for the last two questions, the 2,000 members of GTLA can readily answer in the affirmative—yes—this case is a “prime example” of what goes on in the real world. Policyholders who have been led to believe that their insurance company is “on your side” all too often find out that the insurance company puts its own financial well-being ahead of the policyholder’s. And people who have legitimate claims are routinely “jacked around” by penny-pinching insurance companies, forcing them to hire lawyers to pursue justice for them and their loved ones.
So, yes, this case is a prime example of how policyholders and claimants alike are mistreated all too often by insurers. Much to the chagrin of the insurance industry and its Chamber apologists, this case demonstrates perfectly why lawsuits for negligent or bad-faith failure to settle, carefully considered and decided by Georgia jurors, are a necessity.
William (“Pope”) P. Langdale III
Georgia Trial Lawyers Association