Berkshire Criticized by Maryland Insurance Commissioner for “Artful Neglect”

Disability insurers have a duty to fully investigate claims for benefits, as the insurance companies are well aware.  Unfortunately, some claims departments may focus their efforts on looking like they are investigating and considering information rather than actually doing so.

Berkshire, a disability insurance company that sells own-occupation policies to dentists and doctors, has garnered criticism from at least one state’s insurance commissioner for this very practice.

In Berkshire Life Insurance Company v. Maryland Insurance Administration, 142 Md. App. 628, 791 A.2d 942 (App. 2002), Berkshire attempted to claim that its insured was only partially disabled, and therefore it was only obligated to pay a fraction of the total benefits that were payable under the policy.  In finding that Berkshire’s conduct was “arbitrary and capricious” in violation of Maryland’s insurance statutes and ordering it to pay restitution to the policyholder, the Maryland Insurance Commissioner also found:

Overall, Berkshire’s actions here represent what may be termed as “artful neglect.”  Berkshire gives the appearance of investigating a claim in order to render a good faith claims determination.  As part of this appearance, Berkshire timely requests financial information from its insured and then timely requests more information from its insured.  In direct contrast to this “appearance,” however, Berkshire does not analyze the information at all, much less use an analysis in a cogent and rational way to support a proper claims determination.

In a more recent Arizona case, Nunley v. Berkshire Life Insurance Company of America, 2009 WL 529901 (D. Ariz. 2009), Berkshire tried to have the United States District Court rule that it could not be subject to punitive damages in a case involving a disabled dentist’s total disability claim.  The Court, however, denied Berkshire’s motion, finding that Berkshire might have to pay punitive damages because it did not investigate the dentist’s claim adequately or in a timely fashion.

This “artful neglect” is unlawful, and may subject a disability insurance carrier to bad faith liability.  A disability insurance claimant who thinks her insurer is not adequately investigating the claim should contact an attorney to help protect her rights.