In the first-party bad faith case of Batchelor v. GEICO Casualty Co., 2014 WL 3906312 (M.D. Fla. June 9, 2014), GEICO contended that it would be deprived of due process if it could not get answers to its damages interrogatories.
The interrogatories certainly appear to be standard, form interrogatories used in U.M. cases. They inquire into the plaintiff's damages sustained in the given accident, what physicians she has seen, what injuries she claims, what effects the accident had on her employment history and capacities, and so on.
The interrogatories were served in a bad faith case.
Ms. Donna Batchelor is GEICO's insured. She was injured in an auto accident. She had U.M. coverage of $30,000.00 under a policy issued by GEICO. After GEICO refused to pay the U.M. coverage, Donna Batchelor sued GEICO and a jury in a Florida State Court determined her damages at $1.8 Million.
The U.M. trial court granted GEICO's motion to reduce the verdict to the U.M. policy limit of $30,000.00. GEICO appealed the result (except, certainly, the trial court's ruling limiting the plaintiff's recoverable damages to the U.M. policy limits). Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal affirmed.
GEICO served its U.M. interrogatories in the instant first-party bad faith lawsuit. A motion to compel filed on behalf of GEICO presented the argument that GEICO would be denied due process in the bad faith lawsuit if it were not allowed to serve U.M. interrogatories inquiring into the plaintiff's damages from the accident. This argument was based on a State District Court of Appeal Judge's concurring opinion in a case, which was followed by two U.S. District Judges in two later cases.
The due process argument was successful in front of a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the bad faith case, who granted the motion to compel the plaintiff to answer interrogatories about what damages she incurred in the auto accident, until the argument reached a third U.S. District Judge, in the Middle District of Florida.
As the District Judge pointed out, the due process argument which originated in a State DCA Judge's concurring opinion and "which is wholly unsupported by authority--is contrary to Florida law and, indeed, to the ... majority opinion itself."
GEICO's position might have been made stronger if the interrogatories in question were written to ask what damages Ms. Batchelor claimed in this bad faith lawsuit. Instead, the interrogatories are a form used in U.M. cases directed to the issue of damages sustained in the underlying automobile accident. So, GEICO's position here was that due process would be denied if a U.M. carrier could not send out another set of U.M. interrogatories to ask about damages already fixed by a verdict, reduced in a judgment to U.M. policy limits by motion, and affirmed on appeal to a State District Court of Appeal.
The District Court rejected the due process argument on these facts:
This Court cannot discern any due process violation from this procedural posture. Defendant fully litigated the issue of the extent of Plaintiff's damages, argued that issue on appeal, and obtained a ruling from the appellate court. It has received all of the process to which it is due.
Batchelor v. GEICO Casualty Co., 2014 WL 3906312 *3 (M.D. Fla. June 9, 2014).
GEICO's position may yet prevail. One of the U.S. District Court cases mentioned as accepting this argument on certain facts, is the subject of a pending appeal in the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Batchelor opinion may be one District Judge's comment on that pending issue.
GEICO also argued that the underlying jury verdict was not a determination of bad faith damages. This contention appears to be contrary to the language of Florida's "Bad Faith Statute," Fla. Stat. § 624.155(8), which provides that "[t]he damages recoverable pursuant to this section ... may include an award or judgment in an amount that exceeds the policy limits." The District Judge in this case disposed of this argument as follows:
Defendant's position would improperly read the words "award or" out of the statute. If the legislature intended only for the amount of a judgment to establish the damages, those words would be superfluous.
Batchelor v. GEICO Casualty Co., 2014 WL 3906312 *4 (M.D. Fla. June 9, 2014). [Emphasis by the Court.]
I was going to include the interrogatories for you to see, so I copied them from the motion to compel from the electronic court file on PACER. They are not quoted in the Court's opinion, although the Court's decision in Batchelor becomes clearer on reading the defendant's interrogatories and the plaintiff's answers and objections. When I copied them from the Court File, however, the copy came with a formatting command embedded in the motion to number the paragraphs, so the formatting started over again at paragraph number 1 instead of beginning with paragraph number 5 and ending with paragraph number 15. Renumbering some eleven paragraphs is more work than I anticipated, and so I intend to post the interrogatories separately later.
© 2014 by Dennis J. Wall. All rights reserved. No claim to original U.S. Government works.
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