An insurance contract is supposed to set the rules for your relationship with the insurance company. If the contract says you get paid by the insurer for certain kinds of damage, you should pretty quickly and effortlessly get paid when that kind of damage actually occurs. Right?
Any number of unhappy people who have filed insurance claims can attest that this often is not the way it works in the real world, where every dollar the insurer pays you is a dollar less for its profits. And there really isn’t much you can do about that under the contract itself, even though you have diligently sent your premiums off to the insurer, year after claim-free year.
Holding the Insurer Accountable
In New Mexico, insurers can be held responsible for these bad faith actions through a lawsuit by the insured. In fact, there’s a law that specifically describes many actions that amount to improper behavior by an insurer, and the law specifically allows insureds who are harmed by these behaviors to sue. The first logical step for someone who wants to bring such a bad faith lawsuit is to get the advice of an attorney with extensive experience in handling these suits.
What Kinds of Behavior Show Bad Faith?
The kinds of bad faith behavior demonstrated by insurers are limited only by the collective imagination of the insurers. Among the many kinds of conduct that I commonly viewed as bad faith are:
- Denying the claim despite (1) the fact that insurer knows it’s valid or (2) the insurer hasn’t even investigated the claim to determine its validity;
- Finding grounds to cancel the policy once the insured files a claim (“post-claim underwriting”);
- Paying out way less than a claim is worth;
- Denying a claim without thoroughly investigating it first;
- Dragging out the investigation of the claim without sufficient reason;
- Failure to instruct the insured about its requirements for filing claims and using noncompliance to deny the claim.
Some bad faith behavior is so obvious that it really is surprising that insurance companies engage in it. One clear example of bad faith is when the insurer, knowing that the insured is hurting for money because of the recent loss that prompted the insurance claim, threatens to—or hints that it might—keep dragging out the claims process unless the desperate insured settles for an amount far less than the policy itself calls for. Many a poor insured has traded part of the claim for the peace of mind that comes from ending the contentious fight with the insurance company.
The damages that are available to an insured who has been victimized by an insurance company’s bad faith are not limited to the amount of money that the insurer should have paid. Punitive damages may be awarded if the insured can prove that the insurance company’s actions were frivolous and unfounded, along with attorney fees.
Furthermore, if the bad faith consists of violations of the law governing insurer conduct, the actual damages suffered by the insured may be tripled.
Get Help in Your Bad Faith Battle
Insurers fight bad faith claims tooth and nail, as the saying goes, and they have the people and resources to make the case very difficult for the insured. One way to offset those advantages is to make sure you have the aid of a thoroughly experienced bad faith attorney who has been through the battle many, many times. At Surrano Law Offices, our team has built a successful track record in bad faith cases in New Mexico and nationwide, despite the advantages that insurers have. We can use our extensive knowledge of insurance companies, claims procedures, and the people in the insurance industry to help balance the power in the bad faith battle.
If you know, or seriously suspect, that your insurer is playing games, call the Surrano Law Offices sooner rather than later. We will arrange a fee agreement that works for you, including the possibility of a contingency arrangement in which nothing is due until the successful resolution of your claim. Your initial consultation is free.