Liability Insurer’s Duty to Settle

“In the absence of bad faith, a liability insurer generally is free to settle or to litigate at its own discretion, without liability to its insured for a judgment in excess of the policy limits. William Shelby McKenzie & H. Alston Johnson, III, 15 Louisiana Civil Law Treatise-Insurance Law and Practice § 218 (1986). On the other hand, a liability insurer is the representative of the interests of its insured, and the insurer, when handling claims, must carefully consider not only its own self-interest, but also its insured’s interest so as to protect the insured from exposure to excess liability. Holtzclaw v. Falco, Inc., 355 So.2d 1279 (La.1978) (on rehearing). Thus, a liability insurer owes its insured the duty to act in good faith and to deal fairly in handling claims. Id.Smith v. Audubon Ins. Co., 679 So.2d 372 (La.1996).

“[T]he determination of whether the insurer acted in bad faith turns on the facts and circumstances of each case. Of course, an insurer is not obliged to compromise litigation just because the claimant offers to settle a claim for serious injuries within the policy limits, and its failure to do so is not by itself proof of bad faith. The determination of good or bad faith in an insurer’s deciding to proceed to trial involves the weighing of such factors, among others, as the probability of the insured’s liability, the extent of the damages incurred by the claimant, the amount of the policy limits, the adequacy of the insurer’s investigation, and the openness of communications between the insurer and the insured. Nevertheless, when an insurer has made a thorough investigation and the evidence developed in the investigation is such that reasonable minds could differ over the liability of the insured, the insurer has the right to choose to litigate the claim, unless other factors, such as a vast difference between the policy limits and the insured’s total exposure, dictate a decision to settle the claim.” Id.

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