Bad Faith Verdict Tags Insurer For $600K In Harvey Damages
By Jeff Sistrunk
(Law 360 (September 18, 2019) — A Texas Jury has found that American access Casualty Co. Must pay a policy Holder more than $600,000 because it breached its policy in bad faith when it lowballed the man’s claim for damage to his truck due to Hurricane Harvey.
On Monday, a Harris County jury issued the verdict in favor of American Access Policy holder Jaime Dominguez-Siller, bringing the nearly two-year-old case to a close. The award was 100 times the roughly $6,000 that American Access offered to shell out after Dominguez-Siller’s truck was flooded during the historic hurricane in 2017.
The jury found that American Access had breached the terms of the auto policy it had issued to Dominguez-Siller and knowingly engaged in unfair or deceptive practices in violation of Chapter 541 of the Texas Insurance Code. The over $600,000 award included more than $30,000 in compensatory and consequential damages on Dominguez-Siller’s breach of contract claim. $300,000 in bad faith damages and $228,550 in attorneys’ fees, plus both prejudgement and pot-judgement interest.
David Bergen of Daly and Black PC, who represents Dominguez-Siller, praised the verdict in a phone interview with Law360 on Wednesday.
“I’ve never heard of a first-party insurance case involving a jury verdict 100 times the size of the initial claim,” Bergen said “this sends a very strong message to insurance companies that they cannot underpay claims and get away with it.”
An attorney for American Access did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
When Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in late August 2017, Dominguez-Siller’s 2015 GMC Sierra truck was inundated with floodwaters, court documents indicate. He proceeded to file an insurance claim with American Access.
In November 2017 suite against the insurer, Dominguez-Siller alleged that American Access failed to conduct a thorough investigation of the damage to the tuck and underpaid his claim by thousands of dollars. As a result, Dominguez-Siller asserted, the damage to the truck worsened and it was ultimately deemed a total loss.
“The adjuster assigned to the claim conducted a substandard investigation and inspection of the automobile, prepared a report that failed to include all of the damages that were observed during the inspection, Dominguez-Siller alleged in the suit, which was initially filed in November 2017. “This unreasonable investigation led to the underpayment of the plaintiff’s claim.
In response to the suit, American Access argued that Dominguez-Siller had failed to present sufficient evidence to support his claim or take adequate measures to mitigate the damages to his truck.
Dominguez-Siller is represented by David Bergen and John Black of Daly & Black PC.
American Access is represented by Jason H.G. Truitt of Anderson and Truitt PLLC.
The case is Dominguez-Siller v. American Access Casualty Co., case number 1101103, in th County Civil Court of Harris County, Texas.