When should an insurance company settle your claim? Is there a time limit?

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Car accident

Recently, the parents of a young woman who died in a car crash pled that the Eleventh Circuit uphold a Georgia federal judge’s ruling that Grange Mutual Casualty Company failed to settle their claim against the at-fault driver, saying the insurer tried to pay too late.

It was in March 2014 that a car crash killed the Woodards’ daughter, Anna, and seriously injured Boris, her father. The at-fault driver, Thomas Dempsey, was charged with vehicular homicide, according to court documents.

Dempsey’s insurance policy with Grange had bodily injury liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. The Woodards’ uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance provided an additional $25,000 each for Anna’s death and Boris’ injuries, The Woodards’ insurer quickly sent payment, but Grange, the defendant’s insurance carrier, were slow to respond.  On June 19, 2014, the Woodards’ attorney sent a time-limited demand to Grange offering to settle the tort claim, seeking $50,000 for Anna’s death and $50,000 for injuries to Boris. On July 22, 2014, Grange responded saying it would send the checks within 10 days of accepting their demand.  The Woodards did not receive the checks until 53 days had passed. Grange argued the checks were sent to a bad address.

Plaintiffs’ filed suit, arguing that they did not accept Grange’s offer because the offer to settle stated “Timely payment is an essential element of acceptance,” and the insurer did not provide timely payment. U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story granted summary judgment to the Woodards, finding that the demand unambiguously required timely payment as a condition of acceptance and that Grange had failed to settle the claims against Dempsey. Grange is now seeking to reverse the ruling, arguing in their appellate brief that affirming the judgment would allow the Woodards to renege on the very deal that they had proposed. The company said it had cut the checks on July 29 and received nothing indicating they had been returned, so the insurer was surprised at hearing from the Woodards that they had not been paid.

The insurer said that it is entitled to summary judgment, and that its settlement agreement with the Woodards should be deemed enforceable.

The Plaintiffs/Appellees rebut stating “Actions speak louder than words, and the offer required the action of timely payment,” the parents argue. “This court should reject the result Grange is seeking, i.e., insurance companies may pay a claim whenever they want without fear of consequences. Grange did not timely pay, so Grange did not accept the offer. No settlement contract was formed, and this Court should affirm the district court.”

The case is Grange Mutual Casualty Co. v. Boris Woodard et al., case number 15-13295, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

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