The Moral High Ground Is Crucial In Insurance Disputes, Confirms Ninth Circuit

In any lawsuit, but particularly an insurance dispute, it’s important to have the “moral high ground.”  In an insurance case, this means cooperating with the insurer and responding to the insurer’s reasonable requests for information.  Even where the insured is in the right, insurers often seize on the insured’s failure to provide information about their claim or otherwise cooperate in the insurer’s investigation to justify denying coverage or payments.  Even where the insurer is acting unreasonably, failing to cooperate with the insurer gives the insurer a pretext to justify its conduct.

This was emphasized in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Birdgham-Morrison v. National General Assurance Company.  Ms. Birdgham-Morrison sued her insurer National General for failing to pay the full amount needed to cover her injuries sustained in a car crash under her Underinsured Motorist (“UIM”) coverage.

Ms. Birdgham-Morrison’s problem was the insurer was able to leverage her failure to provide the insurer more information about her injuries to justify refusing to pay the full amount of her claim.  The court noted the insured’s lawyer sent letters to National General demanding it pay the claim, but did not include specific information about her injuries.   Similarly, the court noted the plaintiff never responded to the insurer’s requests for additional information about her injuries.

Accordingly, the court ruled that National General did not violate Washington’s Insurance Fair Conduct Act in denying the full amount of Ms. Birdgham-Morrison’s claim.

This case illustrates the unfortunate reality that insureds must be able to show they went above and beyond in assisting the insurer with investigating their claim if they want to get the full policy coverage they paid for.

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