Insurance Agent Negligence: The Duty Agents Owe to Their Customers

Web Admin - Tuesday, March 04, 2014

illinois insurance agent negligence lawyerInsurance agents often act as a person’s main point of contact throughout the process of procuring an insurance policy. This means people are relying on insurance agents to do their job thoroughly, carefully, and professionally. To that end, the law imposes a duty of reasonable care on insurance agents to ensure that they perform their jobs accurately. 

The fact that agents have this duty means that if the agent harms a customer through their negligence, they may be liable to that customer in court for the damage that their insurance negligence caused. Generally speaking, these sorts of claims for negligent errors and omissions come in two forms: improperly filing or filling out insurance paperwork, and failure to properly counsel the client on the type of insurance they need.

Types of Insurance Agent Negligence

Insurance agent negligence often occurs in an agent’s clerical capacity. An agent must exercise reasonable care in the filling out of insurance paperwork to make sure that the insurance company provides coverage and that the policies are properly updated. An example of this sort of negligence in the realm of car insurance would occur if a person wanted to add someone to their insurance policy, and yet after informing the agent, the agent never properly filed the paperwork to add them to the policy. If the new person, who should be covered under the insurance, was in a car accident, the agent would be liable for the person’s lack of coverage.

Insurance agents also have a duty to exercise ordinary care when advising clients about the types of policy they need, along with possible limits and exemptions of the policy. This claim comes up often in the case of policy exclusions, which are special circumstances in the insurance policy for which the company refuses to pay. These exemptions can often be long and complex, which means that the insurance agent may be liable for negligently advising the customer if they do not make the exclusions clear. 

For an example of this, consider a person buying homeowner’s insurance who explicitly wants coverage for every item in their home in the case of a fire. If an agent provides them a policy that excludes jewelry or some other class of property, the insured might have a claim against the agent for negligent errors and omissions.

The Statute of Limitations

Statutes of limitations are time limits that the law places on people looking to file lawsuits. In the case of insurance agent negligence, Illinois law limits people to two years to file the suit once the person has a cause of action. However, that time limit can be deceptively complicated since it does not say when a person has a cause of action. Generally, courts start the clock running once the insurer first takes a position that runs against the insured’s expectations. That can mean in some cases the insured needs to act quickly, since it is possible that their underlying insurance case will not even be finished before the statute of limitations related to the agent expires.

If you believe you have been the victim of insurance agent negligence, find an Illinois insurance attorney near you. They can help protect your rights in court and ensure that you recover fair compensation for the harm done by negligent insurance agents. Our firm represents people across the northwest suburban area, in towns like Rolling Meadows, Buffalo Grove and Barrington.

About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.

Appealing a Denial of Accidental Death Benefits

Web Admin - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

illinois denied insurance benefitsMany people carry life insurance or accidental death and dismemberment (AD&D) policies. These policies, which people can acquire through their employer or on the open market, may pay benefits in cases of accidental death. Unfortunately, life insurance policies comprise an industry worth hundreds of billions of dollars, according to a report by the U.S. Treasury, and insurance companies have strong incentives to pay out as little as they can in benefits.

Often, that means denying legitimate life insurance claims on the basis of a “policy exclusion.” Policy exclusions are exceptions that insurance companies place into contracts that exempt certain situations from qualifying for payment. Common policy exemptions include suicides and deaths occurring within one year of the policy’s start. Companies can use these sorts of exemptions as pretexts for denying the payment of benefits.

Contesting a Denial

Even after the insurance company denies the claim, beneficiaries do have tools to appeal the decision. However, depending on the law governing the insurance policy, the tools may be expansive, or more limited in nature. For instance, plans through a person’s employer are often covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). ERISA places strict limits on how appeals take place.

Beneficiaries must appeal the decision through a special ERISA administrator before they can move into the regular court system. Beneficiaries with denied claims would do well to seek out a lawyer before filing their ERISA appeal because the actions that take place at that appeal can have strong impacts on a court case. Courts handling ERISA litigation often use evidence from the appeal when making their decisions. That means that if something is left unmentioned at that stage, it can be very difficult to convince the court to consider it later.

Plans purchased by an individual, rather than provided by an employer, will likely be governed by state law instead of ERISA. While this law is usually less restrictive, individuals should still be cautious when dealing with insurance companies. In state law cases, the beneficiary will likely sue the insurance company in an attempt to prove that their cases does not actually fall into the policy exclusion that the company is claiming.

If you have been the victim of a wrongful denial of a life insurance claim, get a written statement of the reasons for the denial, and seek help from an Illinois insurance attorney. Our firm serves clients across the northwest suburban area, including Schaumburg, Palatine, and Crystal Lake.

About the Author: Attorney Ken Apicella is a founding partner of DGAA focusing in the areas of personal injury, employment, insurance coverage disputes, and civil litigation. Ken earned his J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1999. He has been named a SuperLawyers Rising Star and a Forty Illinois Attorneys Under Forty to Watch. Ken has written and lectured for the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education and regularly serves as a moderator at Northwest Suburban Bar Association's Continuing Legal Education seminars.

Unpaid Life Insurance Benefits are a Billion Dollar Problem

Web Admin - Thursday, January 23, 2014

By Ken Apicella
(847) 934-6000

A recent probe of insurance companies conducted by New York State’s Department of Financial Services revealed that, nationwide, insurance companies failed to pay an estimated $1.1 billion in life insurance to beneficiaries. The issue stems, in part, from a lack of communication between policyholders and beneficiaries. If the policyholder never informed the beneficiary that they took out a life insurance policy, the beneficiary would not know to file a claim. This causes problems because insurance companies rely on beneficiaries to report when someone dies in order to claim their benefits.

At least, that used to be the case. Following this probe and similar investigations across the country, including in Illinois, insurers are starting to follow a different set of rules. For instance, in New York, Governor Cuomo signed a law that requires insurers to make routine searches of a death database in order to determine if any new deaths matched policyholders, so that they could start the process of finding that person’s beneficiary.

The Governor introduced this law in order to put to rest the apparently common practice of using such databases to track the deaths of people to whom the insurance company owes monthly checks, without using those same databases to track the deaths of policyholders.

The investigation also prompted more stringent enforcement of rules requiring insurers to turn unpaid benefits over to the state in some circumstances. Many states run unclaimed property departments. These departments hold on to the property, and then it becomes the beneficiary’s burden to track it down. Fortunately, with some careful planning, policyholders and beneficiaries can avoid problems like this.

The easiest way to make sure your loved ones do not have to spend time tracking down an insurance policy is with communication. If you take a life insurance policy out on yourself, tell the beneficiary. While some people can find it unpleasant to discuss or difficult to go into the details of how much they chose to purchase, you do not need to do that. It does not have to be a long, drawn-out conversation. Even just letting them know that you took out a policy, as well as which insurance company they should talk to if necessary, can be helpful.

If you have found yourself involved in an insurance dispute, contact a Palatine insurance attorney today. Call 847-934-6000 to speak to a member of our team. We serve many northwest areas including Rolling Meadows, Chicago, Crystal Lake, Inverness, and other nearby communities.

Unpaid Claims by Insurance Companies on the Rise

Web Admin - Saturday, November 09, 2013

In recent years, it has become more difficult for policyholders to get paid after submitting a claim to their insurance company. In fact, research done by the Los Angeles Times shows that the amount of money that insurance companies failed to pay on claims more than doubled in the past decade to $372 million.

This increase comes, in part, from insurance companies using aggressive tactics to avoid paying money to deserving people. These tactics include denying payment or cancelling coverage after people make claims, confusing customers until they give up trying to collect on their policies, and delaying payment on valid claims. For many consumers, the best option to protect their rights in the face of these insurance actions is to seek out an attorney experienced in handling unfair insurance claim denials.

Insurance Company Tactics        

One of the most common tricks that insurance companies use to avoid paying for valid claims involves denying their validity, or canceling coverage after the policyholder makes a claim. Insurers often do this by claiming that the policyholder failed to inform them of some piece of information, even if that information had no effect on the reason for filing the claim in the first place. Some companies dealing in health insurance go so far as to examine the medical records of claimants in an attempt to dig up some pre-existing conditions that they can use to cancel the coverage or deny the claim. There have even been cases of insurance companies revoking coverage based on conditions that the company never asked about, or that doctors never diagnosed.

Insurance companies also actively attempt to confuse customers about the extent of their coverage in order to escape paying on claims. The companies’ best tool for this is often their contract. Insurance companies write their contracts with an eye towards keeping them difficult to understand, that way they can fool customers into believing that their policy covers more than it actually does until they file a claim.

Another strategy insurers use involves simply delaying payment of the claim until they give up, or in some cases even pass away. Insurers have many tools to prolong the process of trying to collect on a claim. Some tricks amount to nothing more than a bureaucratic runaround, like sending the wrong paperwork for the policyholder to fill out, but others are more aggressive--like simply waiting to mail the payment until the beneficiary complains. Some insurers delay payments so severely that customers resorted to lawsuits just to get the money the company owed them.

Legal Help for Unpaid Insurance Claims in Illinois

If you have questions about an insurance dispute, contact an Illinois insurance attorney today. Call 847-934-6000 to speak with a member of our team. We work with residents in many communities on these issues, including Chicago, Crystal Lake, Schaumburg, Des Plaines, and more.

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