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A different kind of 'bad faith' bill for Florida Legislature p. 3

We're continuing our story of a claims bill that will be heard by the Florida Legislature in 2012. If passed, the bill would compensate the victim of a car accident involving and caused by a deputy sheriff. The parties -- the victim and the sheriff's office -- don't object. The insurance company for the sheriff's office does.

The bill proposes a payment of $15.575 million, much lower than the original jury award of $31 million and much, much higher than the $3 million policy limit for the sheriff's office. How, then, to make up the difference?

This lawsuit has been the subject of claims bills since 2009. While the new proposal doesn't address the issue, past bills have included an answer to this question: The sheriff's office will assign its rights to the victim, and the victim will then pursue the insurance company on the grounds of bad faith.

A bad faith suit would pose risks for both sides. For the plaintiff, there's the chance the defendant insurance company will win. The plaintiff would end up having to pay medical and legal bills -- bills estimated to be close to $2 million in 2005.

For the insurer, the risk is, of course, having to pay more than the $15.575 million, as well as having to pay attorney and court fees for its defense.

The bad faith claim isn't new to the case. The insurance company first refused to settle for the $3 million limit, then offered amounts insufficient to cover the plaintiff's costs up to that point. At the end of the last legislative session, lawmakers encouraged the parties to settle, but the insurance company wouldn't budge higher than $8.5 million -- again, not enough to cover the victim's needs.

No one is offering an opinion about how the case will turn out. Insurance company attorneys argued that the past claims bills -- the ones that literally paved the way for a bad faith suit -- could be unconstitutional as well.

In the meantime, the victim and his family have been waiting for more than a decade for relief.

Source: Miami Herald, "Legislators again to wrangle over disabled mans claim against Broward Sheriffs Office," Jim Saunders, Sept. 1, 2011

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