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Appellate court finds garage insurance policy doesn’t cover injuries

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For only the second time, the Indiana Court of Appeals has addressed the language in a garage insurance policy, and upheld partial summary judgment in favor of the insurer.

Judge Edward Najam wrote in Patrice Cotton v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, No. 49A02-1005-CT-575, that only once before has the Court of Appeals considered language similar to that found in the garage policy issued by Auto-Owners Insurance Co. held by dealer Jim Bailey. Bailey had given his grandson a temporary license plate from his dealership to use on his car, but the car was not connected in any other way to the dealership. While Patrice Cotton was riding in the car, the grandson hit a bridge embankment and Cotton was injured.

She sued the grandson, Auto-Owners, Jim Bailey Auto Sales, and Jim Bailey. She believed Bailey’s garage policy provided coverage for her injuries because Bailey provided the dealership’s temporary license plate. The trial court granted partial summary judgment to Auto-Owners and also denied Cotton’s motion to strike Bailey’s affidavit. He died during the discovery process.

The garage policy provides coverage for “automobile dealer, repair shop, service station, storage garage, or public parking place, and all operations which are necessary or incidental thereto, including (1) the ownership, maintenance or use of any automobile in connection with the foregoing.” In Automobile Underwriters Inc. v. Hitch, 169 Ind. App. 453, 349 N.E.2d 271 (1976), the Court of Appeals considered similar language in a suit filed after someone was injured by using reloaded shotgun shells Hitch sold out of his garage storefront.

The Hitch court held that Hitch’s insurance policy language wasn’t ambiguous and the only reasonable interpretation of the policy is that the sale of shotgun shells isn’t necessary or incidental to the use of the premises for operating a garage. The appellate judges found Hitch to apply to the instant case, and also cited a very similar case to Cotton’s from North Carolina, McLeod v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 444 S.E.2d 487 (N.C. Ct. App. 1994). That court concluded that a third party’s use of a dealer license tag on his personal vehicle wasn’t considered necessary or incidental to a garage business.

“The mere fact that the Dealer provided a temporary license plate for a vehicle does not bring that vehicle within the coverage of the garage policy,” wrote Judge Najam on Cotton’s suit. “Generally speaking, to provide a temporary license plate may well be incidental to a licensed auto dealer’s business, but Auto-Owners’ garage policy provides coverage only if the plate is used ‘in connection with’ the business operations.”

The appellate court also upheld the denial of Cotton’s motion to strike Bailey’s affidavit.

“To the extent the statements in the affidavit regard the operations of the Dealer, including its inventory, sales, and employees, the Dealer’s business records or the testimony of a Dealer employee would be admissible proof of such matters. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it refused to strike those portions of the Bailey Affidavit,” he wrote.

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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