The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that an independent adjuster hired by an insurer does not owe a duty of care to an insured. Trinity Baptist Church v. Brotherhood Mut. Ins. Services, LLC, 2014 WL 6908858 (Okla. Dec. 9, 2014).
The insured made a claim for damage to its building. The insurer retained an independent adjuster under a limited assignment that provided the adjuster was: “(1) not to make coverage commitments to the insured; (2) not to send written correspondence to the insured except as necessary to confirm appointments, collect necessary documentation, or provide a complete estimate; (3) to personally inspect the losses; and (4) [to] provide a descriptive report [ ] if a loss was possibly not covered so that a[n insurer] adjuster could make a coverage determination.” After lengthy investigation, the insured sued the insurer and adjuster. It alleged that (1) the adjuster assigned an individual that was inadequately skilled for adjusting the claim; (2) the adjuster was allowed to drag out the claim for over a year; (3) the adjuster was allowed to “low-ball” the insured on several occasions only to have the loss covered increased after the insured hired third-parties; and (4) the adjuster engaged in inadequate and incomplete adjustment to the insured’s detriment. The adjuster moved for summary judgment, arguing that it owed no duty to the insured which would subject it to liability for bad faith or negligent adjustment claims. The trial court found that no duty existed, and the insured appealed.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court held that Oklahoma law does not support liability by a party which is “a stranger to the [insurance] contract” with the only limited exception being where a party “acts sufficiently like an insurer so that a special relationship can be said to exist between the third-party and the insured.” The Supreme Court held that the independent adjuster had not acted in a manner creating a special relationship with the insured as it had not “had primary control over benefit determinations;…received a percentage of the premiums paid for participant coverage, which increased as losses decreased;…[or] assumed much of the risk for its determinations.” Without a special relationship, the Supreme Court held that an independent adjuster owes no duty to an insured as creating a separate duty from the adjuster to the insured would create an irreconcilable conflict with the adjuster’s contractual duty to its client, the insurer.