In his October 1, 2015 decision in the case of Brands v. Erie Ins. Exchange, No. 2604-CIVIL-2015 (C.P. Monroe Oct. 1, 2015 Willamson, J.), Judge Williamson issued another Opinion severing a Bad Faith claim from a UIM claim in a Post-Koken case, and also issued a stay order against any bad faith discovery pending the resolution of the UIM claim.
In severing the claims for trial, Judge Williamson reasoned, in part, that the UIM trial is a jury trial, while a bad faith trial is required to be a bench trial in state court.
He also noted that severance for trial purposes is required as it would be confusing to the jury and prejudicial to the UIM carrier for bad faith testimony to be allowed during the UIM trial. Judge Williamson stated that, if the cases were tried together, "[a] jury would hear evidence unrelated to what they will be deciding, and may be swayed by evidence the court considers in the bad faith claim." Op. at p. 2.
Overall, Judge Williamson found "no compelling reason to hear these cases together." Id.
In granting the motion to stay bad faith discovery, Judge Williamson followed his previous reasoning in the Hakim v. Erie Ins. Opinion, but did not cite to that decision. Click this LINK to view the Tort Talk blog post on the Hakim case, which contains a Link to that Opinion as well.
In this Brands decision granting a stay of bad faith discovery, Judge Williamson noted that his decision was supported by the fact that bad faith discovery dispute would like arise, the resolution of which would be time-consuming and expensive and would delay the resolution of the UIM part of the claim. The court also suggested that there was a chance that the bad faith claim would never come to fruition pending the results of the UIM claim.
Judge Williamson also cautioned that to allow bad faith discovery before the end of the UIM claim "could steer the negotiation process of settlement in an unfair manner."
The court also noted that a plaintiff's concern for a prompt and fair disposition of the bad faith claims following the resolution of the UIM claims could be handled by the court's control of discovery efforts and trial scheduling following the conclusion of the UIM case.
Accordingly, the court in Brands continued the trend in Monroe County of granting both requests to sever UIM and Bad Faith Post-Koken claims and staying Bad Faith discovery efforts pending the resolution of the UIM claim.
Anyone wishing to review the Brands decision by Judge Williamson may click this LINK.
I send thanks to Attorney Domenic Sbrocchi of the Bethlehem, PA law firm of King, Spry, Herman, Freund, & Faul for bringing this case to my attention.