Ever since the Washington Insurance Fair Conduct Act (“IFCA”) took effect on December 6, 2007, insureds have asserted a claim for IFCA violation in lawsuits against an insurance company. While IFCA specifies that “[a]ny first party claimant to a policy of insurance who is unreasonably denied a claim for coverage or payment of benefits by an insurer may bring an action,” insureds under both first-party policies and third-party liability policies have asserted IFCA claims in light of Washington courts’ very pro-policyholder attitude. An IFCA claim is very attractive to the insureds because if a court finds that an insurer acted unreasonably in denying a claim for coverage or payment of benefits, an insured is entitled to actual damages (not limited to the benefits that were unreasonably denied), treble of those damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.
Earlier this year, however, Judge Marsha Pechman dismissed plaintiffs’ IFCA claim against Continental Casualty Company (Continental), ruling that IFCA does not apply to third-party liability claims. Cox v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68081 (W.D. Wash. May 15, 2014). Judge Pechman explained that only a “first party claimant to a policy of insurance” has a right of action under IFCA.
Cox arises out of a malpractice action against retired dentist, Dr. Henri Duyzend. In the malpractice action, a group of Dr. Duyzend’s former patients secured a judgment totaling $35,212,000 against Dr. Duyzend for their malpractice claims. Thereafter, on an assignment of claims from Dr. Duyzend, the dental patients sued Continental, alleging in part that Continental acted in bad faith and violated the IFCA by not pursing a global settlement with them and risking an excess judgment against Dr. Duyzend. Continental had issued a professional liability policy to Dr. Duyzend.
With regard to the plaintiffs’ IFCA claim, Judge Pechman explained that “[a]n IFCA claim arises when ‘any first party claimant’ to a policy of insurance … is unreasonably denied a claim for coverage or payment of benefits by an insurer.” Judge Pechman noted that a third-party insurance policy “indemnif[ies] an insured for covered claims which others [third-party claimants] file against him.” The professional liability policy at issue in Cox was a third-party liability policy, not a first-party insurance policy. As a result, Dr. Duyzend was never a first-party claimant under the IFCA and could not assign an IFCA claim to the plaintiffs. Therefore, Judge Pechman dismissed the plaintiffs’ IFCA claim.
In one subsequent case, Judge Pechman held consistently with her decision in Cox. Judge Pechman denied a plaintiff’s motion to amend the complaint to assert an IFCA violation against an insurer under a third-party liability policy, holding that such claims are not permitted under the rule. [CITE??] Judge Pechman refused to certify to the Washington Supreme Court the question of whether an insured under a third-party liability policy may have an IFCA claim. In so holding, the court affirmed that under Washington law, coverage which “indemnif[ies] an insured for covered claims which others [third-party claimants] file against him is third-party coverage. As discussed in Cox, the IFCA defines ‘first party claimant’ in a narrow way that applies only to first-party insurance.”