(OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla.) — An Edmond family’s lawsuit against State Farm moved one step closer to trial in Oklahoma County District Court after a judge denied the insurance company’s request to remove one count of breach of contract during a hearing on Oct. 15.
Todd and Sarah Lindley sued State Farm in July 2021 alleging the insurance company wrongfully denied their claim for interior damage caused by a storm to their more than 11,000 square foot house almost exactly a year earlier. While they did not request a set dollar amount in punitive damages, their case requested compensation on the grounds of a bad faith breach of contract.
According to a 2022 National Association of Insurance Commissioners report, State Farm is the number one provider of home insurance in the U.S. with over 18 % of the market. The company paid two Oklahoma clients in late 2022 for bad faith conduct – one more than $300,000 and the other more than $650,000 – with an upward trend in cases against State Farm nationwide.
Attorney Paula Williams spoke first representing State Farm, arguing the company was placed between refusing to waive a contract term and a bad faith lawsuit.
“It puts an insurer in an impossible position,” she said.
Also representing State Farm, attorney Lance Leffel followed up, giving a passionate argument for the defendant.
“Just because there is a disagreement doesn’t mean you have an argument for bad faith,” he said.
A State Farm contractor completed an assessment of the more than $2 million property and found no hail damage done to the singles from the storm, only finding damage to soft metals, including rain caps, flue caps, downspouts, gutters and more.
They instead attributed the damage to the shingles as “weather and deterioration from normal wear and tear” as well as footfall that “can often be caused and contributed to from the hanging of Christmas lights.”
In response, Jordyn Cartmell, representing the Lindleys, listed nine actions by the insurance giant that could be considered “unreasonable,” which is essential when providing evidence of a bad faith claim. These actions included allegations that State Farm disregarded weather data for the 2020 storm, improper evaluation, and not considering the pre-loss condition of the house.
According to the Lindleys’ case, a State Farm adjuster looked at a contractor’s photographs of the roof for the assessment, and the couple was denied a reinspection request.
Cartmell questioned State Farm’s process for analyzing damage, saying the insurance provider relied more on photos than in-person inspection.
“I know what reliance State Farm puts on those assessments and it’s very little. They rely on the photos,” she said.
Cartmell argued the homeowner is not required to get the damage appraised and a repair estimate in response to the defense’s argument that the Lindleys did not provide State Farm enough information to continue the process and that they never hired a contractor to come look at the damage.
Estimates for both the interior and exterior damage to the house differed widely between adjusters working for either the family or State Farm – with the plaintiff alleging one cost of repairs estimate was 85% lower than it should have been.
An estimate from State Farm in March 2021 for the outside damage of the roof called for $149,000 in repairs, which will be part of the case before a jury. There was a second estimate for interior damage repairs, including painting and repairing the ceiling, at more than $15,000. However, the plaintiff’s estimate is more than $40,000.
“State Farm hasn’t paid a dime of what they said they owe,” Cartmell said.
State Farm argued the Lindleys have not been cooperative or responsive in answering their questions and providing information. They also said they broke their contract by waiting two years to get their home fixed.
The plaintiff cited precedent that a jury decides what is a factual “legitimate dispute” when it comes to bad faith cases, and Oklahoma County District Court Judge Sheila Stinson agreed. It is now up to a jury to decide whether State Farm acted in bad faith after the judge denied its motion to remove the bad faith breach of contract from the lawsuit.
The trial was set to begin Monday, Dec. 4.