You pay your insurance premiums for years, on time, every month, every year. When you pay your premiums, you hope you never need your insurance because that means something bad has happened – a car wreck, a tree has fallen on the home, a water pipe has burst and flooded your home, a hurricane has wrecked your home, an illness or death has struck your family. Yet you take comfort in knowing that your insurance company will uphold their end of the bargain and pay your claim when tragedy does strike. Unfortunately, many Alabamians have found out the hard way that insurance companies don’t always uphold their end of the bargain. Despite paying premiums for years, people are sometimes left stranded by their insurance companies when they need them most. Fortunately the law has a way to handle this situation, though it is often not easy or quick.
In Alabama there are two causes of action against insurance companies when they wrongfully deny a claim. You can sue for breach of contract, and you can sue for bad faith. Breach of contract is pretty straightforward. You have a contract and the insurance company did not uphold their end of it. There is good and bad news for consumers about this. The good news is that if the claim involves your home, you get to not only ask for the claim to be paid, but you get to ask for extra damages for mental anguish and emotional distress. These are legal terms for the aggravation, stress and hardship you have suffered by having an insurance company leave your home unrepaired. The bad news is that claims for breach of contract for any other type of insurance are limited to simply asking for your claim to be paid. This often leaves people out significant amounts of money or without a way to go to court because they either have to pay a lawyer to take their case to court, or it does not make sense to hire a lawyer to handle the claim if the amount is small.
Fortunately, Alabama also recognizes insurance bad faith. Bad faith can be proven when an insurance company either refuses to investigate a claim or uses questionable methods for denying coverage. If an insurance company makes up a reason to deny a claim or uses ambiguous language in the policy to deny a claim, they can be liable for bad faith. Insurance policies are often drafted in ways that make it difficult for consumers to understand them. Insurance companies are supposed to interpret their policies in such a way as to find coverage when it could possibly be available. However, insurance companies often take advantage of the complex language in their policies to deny coverage and leave people in a real bind. The good thing about insurance bad faith is that people can sue to have their claim paid, they can sue for mental anguish and emotional distress, and they can also sue for punitive damages to punish companies for acting against their policyholders’ interests.