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Alarm company's actions not covered by policies

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The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the denial of summary judgment on an insurance company's coverage defenses, ruling its insured's actions leading to a lawsuit were "errors or omissions," and so weren't covered by the commercial general liability or umbrella policies.

In Tri-Etch, Inc., d/b/a Sonitrol Security Systems of Muncie, et al. v. Cincinnati Insurance Co.,  No. 49S02-0901-CV-8, the justices unanimously held that alarm company Tri-Etch's CGL and umbrella insurance policies don't cover a wrongful death claim against Tri-Etch for delays in observing or reacting to the failure of a liquor store to make a scheduled setting of a night alarm. In 1997, Muncie liquor store clerk Michael Young was abducted and beaten just before the store's midnight closing, so the scheduled midnight alarm wasn't activated. It wasn't until 3 a.m. that Tri-Etch discovered the alarm hadn't been set. Young was found later that morning and died of his injuries.

Young's estate won a $2.5 million jury verdict against Tri-Etch in December 2004. The company had three insurance policies; at issue in this appeal is whether Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies cover the claim against Tri-Etch. Also disputed is whether Tri-Etch gave Cincinnati timely notice of the wrongful death claim.

In a dispute between Cincinnati, the estate, and the other insurers, the trial court ruled the estate's claim against Tri-Etch was covered by Cincinnati and ruled Tri-Etch's notice to Cincinnati was unreasonably late and no coverage under the CGL or umbrella policies was owed. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed.

Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies both insure against liability for "bodily injury" caused by an "occurrence." The parties disputed whether Young's death was considered an accident, which would be covered as an occurrence, but the justices concluded Tri-Etch's unintentional oversight to call about the alarm around 12:30 a.m. was an error or omission, so it's not an occurrence covered by the CGL or umbrella policies, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm.

The umbrella policy also specifically excludes bodily injury "arising out of any act, error or omission of the insured in rendering or failing to render telephone answering, alarm monitoring or similar services."

"The jury's verdict necessarily established that Tri-Etch's failure breached its contractual obligation to the store or fell below the standard of care of a reasonable alarm company," wrote the justice. "The judgment therefore was for liability squarely within the exclusions of the umbrella policy."

In determining whether Cincinnati received late notice and was prejudiced by it, the Supreme Court looked to Miller v. Dilts, 463 N.E.2d 257 (Ind. 1984). The high court disagreed with the ruling of the Court of Appeals using Miller, believing that an insurer's denial of coverage on other grounds as a matter of law doesn't rebut the presumption of prejudice from late notice.

"Even if an insurer consistently denies coverage, timely notice gives the insurer an opportunity to investigate while evidence is fresh, evaluate the claim, and participate in early settlement. The fact that an insurer asserts other coverage defenses does not render these opportunities meaningless," he wrote.

Because the high court determined Cincinnati's polices don't apply to the claim in this case, it didn't consider whether Tri-Etch's notice was late or if so, whether the late notice prejudiced Cincinnati. The trial court's denial of summary judgment in favor of Cincinnati's coverage defenses was reversed and the issue remanded with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the insurer.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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