INSURANCE COMPANY VIOLATES DUTY TO CONDUCT A FAIR INVESTIGATION RESULTING IN PUNITIVE
In Woelfel v. Homestead Mutual Insurance, Docket: 2009AP002104 03-02-11, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals examined a case where it was alleged that an insurance company failed to properly investigate the case of a collapsing feed silo. Neighbors heard a loud “boom” or “whoosh” when the feed silo collapsed. An investigator for the farmers insurance company performed a cursory investigation and determined that the silo collapsed due to structural problems. The court found that the investigation was so bad that it amounted to no investigation at all. The investigator reach flatly unsupportable conclusions as to the cause of the collapse and quickly determined–conveniently– that the collapse was “not covered” under the policy. A more diligent investigation would have determined that the collapse was due to an explosion and fire. Evidence establishing an explosion caused the collapse was ignored by the insurance company. The trial court found that the claim was covered and further as a punishment for the sham “investigation” it awarded punitive damages of $700,000 in addition to damages for loss of the silo. The court found that the insurance company had gone into “pre-denial” mode before even visiting the site for inspection. On appeal the court of appeal upheld the trial court ruling finding that the insurance company conducted its investigation in such a way as to prevent it from learning the true facts upon which the claim was based.
Often times when an insurance claims for property damages arise the insurance company will retain and employ independant “experts” with substantial credentials. However many times these experts do work exclusively for insurance companies and predictably often render opinions that result in a determination of “no coverage” under the applicable insurance policy. You are entitled to retain your own independent expert to determine causation. Our firm routinely deals with such cases. Don’t let the insurance company white wash an investigation. If you believe your claim is covered but the insurance company and its “expert” are telling you otherwise do not hesitate to call David or Warren at our office.