Insurer wants suit over alleged unfair claims practices moved

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 31, 2012

ELKINS - In a filing earlier this month, an insurer asked that a lawsuit filed against it for denying a West Virginia homeowner's claim be transferred to federal court.

Defendant Foremost Insurance Company filed its five-page notice of removal in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in Elkins July 20.

It wants the suit filed against it by plaintiffs Robert and Patricia Long moved from Grant Circuit Court.

The Longs, who insured their 1982 Grant County mobile home through Foremost, filed their suit June 18.

According to their complaint, the home's tenant -- the couple rented out the mobile home -- allowed a water leak to occur, completely destroying its floor, in June 2011.

The Longs notified Foremost of their claim on July 26, 2011. Foremost denied the claim.

According to their suit, the insurer told the plaintiffs that the damage was not damage that "suddenly occurred" but damage that had occurred over a very long period of time, and that "wear and tear" and mechanical breakdown is excluded in their policy.

After Foremost refused to provide coverage, the Longs repaired the damage to the home at a cost of $8,000.

They are now seeking that much in damages, plus "an additional amount to be determined by a jury" and attorney fees.

In its filing, Foremost argues that federal court is the more appropriate venue, given the diversity in citizenship and the amount in controversy.

First off, the company is based in Caledonia, Mich.

In addition, as Foremost explains in its request, when applying a 9 to 1 ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages -- in this case, the $8,000 -- the resulting punitive damages award would be $72,000.

"When adding the compensatory damages of $8,000 to the potential punitive damages of $72,000 that may be recoverable should plaintiffs prevail on their 'bad faith' claim, the amount in controversy exceeds the jurisdictional limit of $75,000," lawyers for the insurer wrote.

James A. Varner Sr. and Michael D. Crim of Clarksburg firm McNeer, Highland, McMunn and Varner LC are representing Foremost.

Petersburg attorney John G. Ours is representing the Longs in the matter.

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