Insured May Bear the Consequences of Insurer’s Negligence
For decades, California courts have mandated that an insurer is obligated to accept a “reasonable” settlement demand within policy limits on behalf of its insured. If it fails to do so, it is liable for the entire judgment, including amounts in excess of the policy limits. Comunale v. Traders & Gen. Ins. Co. (1958) 50 Cal.2d 654, 659. Subsequent cases have addressed whether an insurer can escape excess liability if its decision-making process, as opposed to the settlement itself, was “reasonable”. California law is clear that even an honest mistake as to whether the claim is covered does not absolve an insurer from excess liability. Johansen v. Calif. State Auto Association Inter-Ins. Bureau (1975) 15 Cal.3d 9, 15-16. However, courts have also considered whether an insured must show the insurer acted “unreasonably” in assessing the value of the claim. In Crisci v. Security Ins. Co. of New Haven (1967) 66 Cal.2d 425, 431, the California Supreme Court held that the very fact of an excess judgment created an inference that the insurer was liable for the excess judgment. Other cases, however, looked at whether the insurance company properly investigated all facts relating to liability and damages. See, e.g., Betts v. Allstate Ins. Co. (1984) 154 Cal.App.3d 688, 707.
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