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.

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.

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