In Barry Zalma on Bad Faith: Time to Put A Stake Through the Heart of the Tort of Bad Faith, insurance expert witness Zalma writes:
After the creation of the tort of bad faith, if an insurer and insured disagreed on the application of the policy to the factual situation, damages were no longer limited to contract damages as in other commercial relationships. If the court found that the insurer was wrong it could be required to pay the contract amount AND damages for emotional distress, pain, suffering, punishment damages, attorney’s fees and any other damages the insured and the court could conceive. It was hoped that the tort of bad faith would have a salutary effect on the insurance industry and force insurers to treat their insureds fairly. However, claims for $40.00 wrongfully denied resulted in $5 million verdicts. Juries, unaware of the reason for and operation of insurance decided that insurers that did not pay claims were evil and that they wrote contracts so they never had to pay. They punished insurers severely even when the insurer’s conduct was correct and proper under the terms of its contract. The massive judgments were publicized and many insurers decided fighting its insureds in court was too expensive regardless of how correct its position was on the contract.