The Hartford affiliate Sentinel Insurance Company continued its successful campaign to limit dubious claims by securing another favorable decision – this time in California in the rapidly developing area of financial elder abuse law in Davis v. Sentinel Insurance Co., No. 17-CV-1845 W (JLB) (S.D. Cal. Oct. 18, 2018). This case centered on a coverage dispute arising out of James and Cecelia Davis' uninsured motorist (UM)/underinsured motorist (UIM) claim against Sentinel.
Mr. Davis was injured in an automobile accident caused by an intoxicated driver who was uninsured. Plaintiffs submitted a claim to Sentinel under the UM/UIM provision of their policy seeking economic and non-economic damages. Sentinel offered to settle plaintiffs' claim for $750,000, which plaintiffs refused, and the parties attended binding arbitration. Ultimately the arbitrator awarded plaintiffs "over $300,000.00 more" than Sentinel had previously offered to pay, after which plaintiffs filed suit in the San Diego Superior Court alleging that Sentinel failed to, among other things, properly and timely investigate and adjust the claim.
Sentinel removed the case to the Southern District of California and moved to dismiss. The court granted Sentinel's motion in full, finding that plaintiffs' complaint failed to state a cause of action, but granted plaintiffs leave to amend.
Plaintiffs' amended complaint reasserted the fraud claim and added a new cause of action for Financial Elder Abuse under California Welfare and Institutions Code § 15610.30. Sentinel again moved to dismiss, arguing with respect to the fraud claim that plaintiffs' allegations failed to meet the particularity requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). The court agreed, reasoning that "similar to the original complaint, Sentinel's alleged promises are by and large restatements of its contractual obligations, such as that it would 'promptly investigate, adjust, and resolve the claim' and provide 'coverage for uninsured motorists ... and underinsured motorists.'"
Thus, the court dismissed the fraud claim because it "fail[ed] to provide Sentinel with enough notice of the particular misconduct ... [and therefore was] insufficiently pled." The court also dismissed plaintiffs' elder abuse claim, finding that "given the lack of facts suggesting bad-faith, and the failure to plead a fraud cause of action, Plaintiffs' claim of financial elder abuse boil[ed] down to a straightforward breach of contract claim." As such, and "because financial elder abuse requires more than a breach of contract," the court determined that plaintiffs failed to adequately plead a claim for elder abuse.
Notably, the court also denied plaintiffs' subsequent request for leave to amend, reasoning that despite receiving leave to amend the first time, plaintiffs' re-pled fraud cause of action was "based on virtually the same conclusory allegations contained in the original complaint, and thus granting Plaintiffs leave to amend was a waste of time." For good measure, the court emphasized that its first dismissal order did not allow leave to amend to add a new cause of action.
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