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The Impact of COVID-19 on Bad Faith Claims & Time Limit Demands

Jennifer L. Feld and Sebastian C. Mejia | April 9, 2020

The Florida Supreme Court and the various circuit courts have gone to great lengths to make accommodations regarding access to courtrooms and legal proceedings, while recognizing that COVID-19 is going to impact deadlines and critical proceedings. What the courts have not clearly addressed, however, are pre-suit time limit demands, settlement conferences for multiple competing claims, and bad faith prevention. For this reason, it is important to recognize continuing duties of claims handling and how to navigate potential COVID-19-related roadblocks which clearly now exist with time sensitive claims.

First and foremost, although the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly put limits on the ability of claim professionals and attorneys to investigate and respond to time sensitive claims, claimants will likely not agree. Below are a few tips for carriers to consider when dealing with time sensitive claims during this pandemic:

 

  1. If a demand deadline cannot be met due to lack of time, staffing or investigation resources, seek an extension of time to respond and set forth the reasons for the request. This may not absolve the carrier of all untimely responses, but a well documented extension request can be later used to reasonably explain why the demand was not met.
  2.  

  3. Consider using mobile or online notaries to comply with requests for sworn affidavits of insureds as part of conditional, time-limit demands. Mobile notaries will go to the home of the insured to notarize the document then return it to the carrier. Given the health crisis, some may be wary of meeting with a notary in person. Thanks to a recent change in the Notaries Public Statute Chapter 117, documents that require notarized signatures can now be accomplished remotely. The statute now allows a notary to be physically separate from the principal when undertaking notarial acts by using audio visual equipment and other means.
  4.  

  5. Apportioned settlement conferences and global settlement conferences are also complicated by COVID-19, but there are strategies to ensure these are completed properly and in a timely manner. The key is accessibility to individuals. In Florida, even though we are currently under a statewide shelter-in-place order, multiple competing claims are still time-sensitive matters that need to be completed quickly. Our attorneys have been using video conference applications, which allow the parties to proceed with opening statements via video conference and allows each side to have their own virtual “caucus room” if need be. However, sometimes an “old fashioned” conference call line is still needed to ensure that parties without “smart” phones or computers are still able to participate in the conference despite the presence of a shelter-in-place order.
  6.  

  7. Finally, it is prudent to negotiate a longer turn around time for settlement drafts due to the fact that most people will be working remotely and issuing checks may take longer than normal.
  8.  

While there is much uncertainty as to how long COVID-19 will continue to disrupt daily life, the best course of action is to have procedures in place to ensure that time limit demands and time sensitive claims are being handled in a timely manner and to assume those procedures may need to stay in place for the foreseeable future.

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