Articles Posted in Indiana Supreme Court

by
Plaintiffs obtained a homeowners insurance policy from American Family Mutual Insurance Company. After Plaintiffs’ home sustained substantial fire damage, a dispute arose regarding the amount of insurance claim benefits payable under the policy. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a complaint against American Family and Michael Meek, the insurance agent through whom they obtained their insurance, for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to commence the action within the applicable statute of limitations. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court was correct to grant summary judgment on the basis of the applicable two-year statute of limitations. View "Groce v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
An underinsured motorist collided with a city bus driven by Plaintiff. Plaintiff received a net workers’ compensation award of $71,958. Plaintiff also received $25,000 from the tortfeasor’s insurer. Plaintiff carried an underinsured (UM) policy issued by American Family Mutual Insurance Company that provided coverage up to $50,000 per person. Plaintiff submitted a UM claim to American Family, which denied coverage. Plaintiff filed a breach of contract action against American Family, asserting that he was entitled, under the terms of the policy, to $25,000 - the difference between his UM policy limit of $50,000 and the $25,000 he received from the tortfeasor’s insurer. The trial court granted summary judgment for American Family, concluding that the workers’ compensation benefits Plaintiff received operated as a setoff against the policy limit, thus reducing American Family’s liability to zero. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the policy language unambiguously provided for a setoff against the policy limit; but (2) because this particular set-off would reduce the policy limit below the statutory minimum, Plaintiff was entitled to recover the remaining $25,000 from American Family. View "Justice v. Am. Family Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Motel was insured under a policy issued by Insurer. The policy provided coverage for, as well as a duty to defend against, claims for bodily injury and personal and advertising injury liability. The policy expressly disclaimed coverage for both bodily injury and personal and advertising injury when the injury arose out of intentional conduct. Specifically, the policy excluded coverage for harm resulting from acts of sexual molestation by motel employees. After an off-duty motel employee molested a young motel guest, Insurer sought a declaratory judgment to enforce its reading of the contract disclaiming coverage for, and its duty to defend against, a civil complaint brought by the motel guest. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Insurer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the abuse/molestation exclusion excluded from coverage the act of the employee, as the victim was in the "care" of the motel at the time of the molestation per the language of the exclusion. View "Holiday Hospitality Franchising, Inc. v. Amco Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiffs, Katherine and Michael, were living together in a home that was destroyed by a fire in 1998. Seeking to rebuild their home, Michael and Katherine completed an application for property insurance with American Family Mutual Insurance Company. American Family issued the policy. In 2003, Plaintiffs' garage was destroyed in a fire, and Plaintiffs filed a claim with American Family. During follow-up investigations, Michael disclosed the 1998 fire to American Family. American Family, treating the prior fire loss nondisclosure as a misrepresentation, voided the insurance policy ab initio and denied Plaintiffs' claim. Plaintiffs filed suit against American Family claiming breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The trial court granted summary judgment for American Family. Plaintiffs appealed, challenging the grant of summary judgment on grounds that American Family failed to return the premiums paid by Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs' assignment of error was not properly before the Court on appeal. View "Dodd v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff's vehicle was rear-ended by Driver's vehicle. Plaintiff sued Driver and settled with his insurer for $50,000, the maximum of Driver's automobile liability policy. Plaintiff then sought an additional $50,000 under her underinsured motorist (UIM) policy with State Farm. State Farm declined to award the requested amount. Following trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $50,000. The trial court declined Plaintiff's motion for prejudgment interest pursuant to the Tort Prejudgment Interest Statute (TPIS). Plaintiff appealed the trial court's denial of her motion for prejudgment interest. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the TPIS does apply to UIM coverage disputes; (2) because prejudgment interest is a collateral litigation expense, it can be awarded in excess of an insured's UIM policy limits; but (3) Plaintiff was not entitled to prejudgment interest because the trial court acted within its discretion when it denied her request for prejudgment interest. View "Inman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) informed Flexdar, Inc. that Flexdar would be liable for the costs of cleaning up trichloroethylene (TCE) contamination on a site where Flexdar previously had operations. State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company (State Auto), with whom Flexdar maintained general liability and umbrella insurance policies for the period when the contamination occurred, filed a declaratory judgment action, contending that coverage for the TCE contamination was excluded pursuant to a pollution exclusion in the policies. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Flexdar, concluding that the language of State Auto's pollution exclusion was ambiguous and therefore should be construed against State Auto and in favor of coverage. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the language of the pollution exclusion at issue was ambiguous, and therefore, in accordance with precedent, the policies were construed in favor of coverage.

by
Several family members were injured in a car accident and divided the benefits paid by the tortfeasor's insurer. One family member, Hannah Lakes, also sought to recover under the underinsured motorist (UIM) endorsement of an insurance policy provided by Grange Mutual Casualty Company that applied to all the family members involved in the accident. The trial court granted Grange's motion for summary judgment, holding that the tortfeasor's vehicle was not underinsured because the per-accident limit of his policy was equal to the UIM coverage under the family members' policy. The Supreme Court reversed after reaffirming its decision in Corr v. American Family Insurance, holding that the tortfeasor's vehicle was underinsured because the amount actually paid to Lakes was less than the per-person limit of liability of the under-insurance endorsement.

by
Insured held a life insurance policy issued as part of a federal employee benefit plan. When Insured divorced from his first wife, the divorce decree and property settlement required Insured (1) to maintain the life insurance policy, and (2) to designate the first wife and their grandchildren as equal beneficiaries. Subsequently, Insured remarried, designated his second wife as the sole beneficiary to the life insurance policy, and increased the insurance coverage. Insured and second wife later divorced. When Insured died, the second wife remained the sole beneficiary on the life insurance policy. The first wife and grandchildren filed suit, asserting equitable claims over the life insurance proceeds. The trial court granted summary judgment to the second wife, determining that federal employee benefit law preempted the equitable state law claims and that the policy proceeds accordingly belonged to the second wife. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act did not preempt the equitable claims and that the first wife and grandchildren were entitled to a constructive trust over at least a portion of the proceeds. Remanded.

by
Robin Everhart filed suit against the Indiana Patient's Compensation Fund (PCF) to recover excess damages after settling a wrongful death claim against an emergency room physician in whose care her husband died. The PCF asked the trial court to reduce its award of damages to account for the twenty percent change that Robin's husband would have died anyway, even in the absence of the physician's negligence. The trial court declined to do so, awarding Robin the statutory maximum of $1 million in excess damages. The Supreme Court affirmed but on slightly different grounds, holding that the PCF was required to pay the statutory maximum in excess damages and was not entitled to a set-off because of how the trial court's peculiar findings of fact interacted with the rules for calculating a set-off.

by
Players on a local youth soccer team sought to recover under the state youth soccer governing association's business auto-insurance policy for injuries sustained when the van in which they were riding was involved in an accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the association's insurance carrier. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that under the relevant insurance policy language, the rented van was not being used in the business of the association at the time of the accident. The Supreme Court granted transfer and affirmed the trial court, holding that because Castro was not using the automobile "in the business" of the association, a condition for coverage under the insurance policy at issue, the policy provided no coverage to the injured players.