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Klinger v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.

June 10, 1997

MARK KLINGER,

APPELLANT IN 96-7073

v.

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, *fn1

CROSS-APPELLANT IN 96-7102

(D.C. NO. 94-CV-01393)

NOS. 96-7074, 96-7101

LINDA NEYER,

APPELLANT IN 96-7074

v.

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY,

CROSS-APPELLANT IN 96-7101



(D.C. No. 94-cv-01469)

ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Before: NYGAARD and LEWIS, Circuit Judges, and COHILL, Senior District Judge. *fn2

NYGAARD, Circuit Judge.

Filed June 10, 1997

Argued: January 23, 1997

OPINION OF THE COURT

Mark Klinger and Linda Neyer appeal from the decision of the district court denying them costs, attorney's fees and the full amount of pre-judgment interest they sought in their otherwise successful bad faith action against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. We conclude that the district court erred only in one aspect -- the reasons it gave for denying the request for attorney's fees -- but that its error was in its explanation, not in its application of legal precepts and does not affect the amount to which appellants are entitled. We will therefore affirm.

I.

A.

In August 1992, Klinger and Neyer were seriously injured in a head-on collision while riding in Klinger's van, which was one of two vehicles owned by him and insured by State Farm. The other driver's insurance was inadequate to compensate them for their injuries, so Klinger and Neyer filed underinsured motorist claims against the two State Farm policies.

State Farm disputed the amount of coverage available under these insurance policies, and the parties agreed to bifurcate the issues of coverage and damages and to arbitrate them separately. *fn3ttorney Richard Wix represented State Farm. Attorney David L. Lutz represented Klinger and Neyer.

In October 1993, the arbitrators determined that the coverage available under Klinger's two policies was $115,000. That established, in November, Attorney Lutz sent two letters to Wix demanding that State Farm tender the policy limits to his clients. Wix, however, never apprised State Farm of either of these letters. State Farm contends that it did not know the results of the arbitration because its attorney, Wix, did not answer his phone calls. A State Farm claims representative, however, did not personally visit Wix's office until March 1994. Nonetheless, in January 1994, Attorney Lutz told Timothy Spader, a State Farm claims representative, the results of the arbitration and of his demand letters, when Spader happened to be talking to Lutz about another matter.

Spader then contacted Attorney Wix, who promised him a letter documenting the status of the case. After receiving nothing, Spader finally visited Wix's office personally in March 1994 and obtained some medical records and documentary data. Only then did Spader contact Attorney Lutz, who had earlier written that he was considering a bad faith claim and stated that he would provide State Farm with whatever information it needed to evaluate the extent of damages.

Still State Farm did nothing. In March 1994, the arbitrators scheduled the damages arbitration for June 28. Again Lutz demanded that State Farm pay the policy limits. Again, State Farm's attorney apparently failed to forward this request to State Farm. In April, Lutz went around State Farm's attorney, writing directly to Spader, and inquired whether State Farm was interested in settling the case. Still State Farm offered its insureds nothing.

In June, although the hearing was scheduled for less than a week later, and even though Wix himself now recommended that State Farm tender them the policy limits, State Farm made no offer to pay the appellants anything. Instead, State Farm sought a stay of the hearing. Attorney Lutz refused, and they arbitrated damages. The arbitrators awarded $115,000 to Klinger and $70,000 to Neyer. Finally, on August 2, 1994, a full two years after the accident, and ...


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