Datillo v. Arbella Mutual Ins. Co. - $1.1 Million Judgment, Including Attorney's Fees, in an Insurance Bad Faith Case Involving a $20,000 Insurance Policy.
On August 30, 1998, Angelina Dattillo was seriously injured when her vehicle was hit by a vehicle driven by Arbella Mutual's insured, Anthony Caban. The accident took place in Jupiter, Florida.
Arbella Mutual insured the driver under an automobile policy which had limits of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence. The liability of its insured was clear, and the victim's damages without question exceeded Caban's meager policy limits, so a demand was made to settle her claims for the $20,000 limit. Along with the demand letter, we provided a detailed settlement package, including medical records and police reports. The demand was made one month after the accident, and an express 30-day time limit for acceptance on it.
Arbella Mutual ignored the policy limits demand and failed to inform its insured of the offer to settle. They later misrepresented to him that the demand had never been received. In short, it failed to protect its insured against a judgment beyond the policy limits.
On November 2, 1998, at the expiration of the 30-day deadline, a lawsuit was commenced against the driver in a Florida State Court. Realizing that he was at risk of a large judgment, he agreed to the entry of a $450,000 judgment against him and he assigned his rights against Arbella Mutual to our client. We then sued Arbella Mutual on her behalf under the assignment of rights for bad faith in failing to settle for the $20,000 policy limits. The essence of our claims against Arbella Mutual was that it had a duty to protect its insured against excess liability, to convey settlement demands to him, and to offer the policy limits when liability and damages were reasonably clear.
At trial, Joe Musacchio established that not only were Arbella's practices unfair, but the insurer's conduct was willful. He established that a six month delay in responding to the demand was patently unreasonable. Each excuse offered by Arbella Mutual for the delay was rejected by the Court. In the end, Arbella Mutual was held responsible for the entire judgment against its driver, plus attorney's fees, costs and interest.
The Datillo verdict is a testament not only to the firm's dogged pursuit of justice for our clients, but also to the creative approaches that we take to advocate their rights.