Florida Record

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

11th Circuit Court: No permanent injury in Geico bad faith claim

By Sara McCleary | Dec 23, 2016

Car accident 12

ATLANTA – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a ruling denying a Florida woman’s claim that Geico Insurance acted in bad faith, clarifying the court’s stance on permanency in such cases.

Catherine Cadle sued Geico in early 2009 for allegedly failing to provide her with the maximum $75,000 payout from her under-insured motorist policy, saying she was still receiving treatment for pain and required surgery as a result of a 2007 car accident. Instead, Geico had offered her a $1,000 settlement, arguing Cadle had not provided sufficient evidence of a permanent injury.

The case was brought to court, and in March 2013 a jury decided in favor of Cadle, awarding her $900,000. In October of that year, Geico still hadn’t settled the claim so Cadle filed a bad-faith case with the Middle District of Florida. 

During this trial, Geico brought into question whether Cadle had provided the insurance company with evidence that her accident had caused a permanent injury. This time the judge granted Geico’s motion for judgment, noting that “Reliance on the documents provided by and representations made by [Cadle’s] lawyer cannot amount to bad faith… Rather the insurer is entitled to rely on the documents provided by [Cadle’s] counsel.”

Jacksonville attorney Scott Schuler told Florida Record why there was such a focus on the permanent injury. 

“Occasionally you can have a non-permanent injury or a permanent injury but no evidence of it yet and have a very large claim anyway,” he said. “Usually when people suffer huge amounts of economic loss like they lose their job or that type of thing … you can pretty quickly get above the policy limits without evidence of a permanent injury … Having a permanent injury in this particular case was important because without a permanent injury the case as a matter of law is worth less than the policy limit.”

In late 2014, Cadle appealed the district judge’s decision, arguing she had provided enough evidence at the first trial for the jury to agree she had sustained a permanent injury. The 11th Circuit, however, found that “at no time during the cure period did Cadle produce to Geico medical evidence of the permanency of her injury. 

Non-economic damages are available under an insurance policy only if the plaintiff incurs a '‘permanent injury,’' which must be established ‘'within a reasonable degree of medical probability within the cure period.”

Having followed the case, Schuler said, “In this case it’s pretty clear that the plaintiff’s lawyers did not present record evidence to Geico in a document showing that there was a permanent injury.” 

However, he believes the 11th Circuit’s decision is “an overly restrictive interpretation of what the insurance company’s duty is in the 60-day window.” 

Rather than focusing on the requirement for a permanent injury in these cases, Schuler said with this ruling, “the question becomes not whether there’s evidence that’s available to be developed of a permanent injury, but whether the plaintiff presents such evidence in writing to Geico… and Geico is allowed to do no investigation whatsoever and just say ‘Well, what you’ve presented to me isn’t enough and therefore claim denied.’… I think that’s what we take from this case ... that the insurance company can do that, they can just sit there and do nothing and rely on the documents that you submitted.”

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Organizations in this Story

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh CircuitGEICO Insurance Company