ILNews

Court rules on 3 emotional distress cases

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
Keywords
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
The Indiana Supreme Court says that insurance policy language "bodily injury" includes emotional distress subject to its own damage limits, but only if those making the claim are directly involved in the underlying accident or incident.

A trio of anticipated rulings came late afternoon on Feb. 28 from the state's highest court, with Justice Frank Sullivan authoring all three as they involve similar cases regarding insurance policy coverage of emotional distress. The cases are: State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Patricia Jakupko, et al., No. 29S02-0704-CV-140, Austin J. Elliott, b/n/f William K. Elliott, et al. v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 49S02-0704-CV-143, and State Farm Insurance Co. v. D.L.B., No. 89S05-0802-CV-102.

The 13-page unanimous ruling in Jakupko is the meat of the bunch, but the five-page D.L.B. decision clinches the decisions involving this complex area of insurance law.

Attorneys on both sides of the aisle in these cases credit the court for taking a considerate and reasonable approach.

"They are being sensitive to emotional distress claims getting out of hand," said Indianapolis attorney Scott Montross, who represented the Jakupko family. "They want to make it clear that there has to be a strong connection with the incident. That makes sure we don't lower the bar and let this get abused."

On the insurance industry's side, Bose McKinney & Evans attorney Brian Babb, who represented national and state trade groups as amicus parties, had a similar take.

"This is really a masterful stroke, what they did here," he said. "They've struck a reasonable compromise and swept away all the language that had broadened common law claims of emotional distress without any limitation."

To be clear: Babb lost.

"Although we're disappointed, these three decisions taken together represent a reasonable compromise," he said. "This is going to have an impact on the insurance industry, but it's reasonable and manageable."

Last May, the court heard consolidated arguments in Jakupko and Elliott, and recently agreed to accept D.L.B. as it involves an identical issue, with a twist.

Both in Jakupko and Elliott involve passengers in auto accidents who claimed they suffered negligent infliction of emotional distress, with and without physical manifestations, after being injured themselves and witnessing severe injury to a family member. The family-member passengers of the insurance policyholders sought coverage under uninsured and underinsured provisions of their contracts, arguing that each should be able to recover on their own claims subject to their own liability caps - $100,000 in Jakupko and $25,000 in Elliott, rather than having each person lumped into one policyholder's claim. Each would still be subject to a total accident cap in each case.

Circumstances are slightly different in D.L.B., though, as the case involves a bike-riding 6-year-old boy who witnessed his cousin get struck and killed by a car in July 2000 and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.

Following the Court of Appeals decisions on these cases, the insurance industry had concerns that the common law had been expanded to the point where there was no limitation, Babb said. Those concerns are gone now.

In the Supreme Court decisions, justices agreed with their appellate colleagues in that the term "bodily injury" covers emotional distress and is subject to its own "per person limit" as long as the claim arises from "bodily touching" - meaning that the person claiming emotional distress had to have been directly involved, not a third-party.

The Jakupko and Elliott decisions reach the same conclusion, though one trial court was affirmed and the other reversed based on those initial judgments.

Justices relied on multiple cases from across the country, but most specifically on Wayne Township Board of School Commissioners v. Indiana Insurance Co., 650 N.E.2d 1205 (Ind. Ct. App. 1995) that held "sickness" included emotional distress when there was physical injury and each claim is a distinct "bodily injury." Part of that ruling also determined that emotional-distress damage wasn't included unless it arose from "bodily touching," or physical contact of someone directly involved.

The court also relied on that 1995 ruling in D.L.B., using the "bodily touching" definition to determine that the cousin couldn't recover for emotional distress because the car that struck and killed his cousin didn't directly injure him.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote a separate, concurring opinion that steps back to offer a point of clarity to the court's decision in Jakupko.

"I do not read my colleagues' embrace of (caselaw) to suggest that a person who walks away from an accident without any damage to life or limb, not so much as a bruise, has suffered 'bodily injury' because he or she is 'distressed,'" he wrote, tying that decision to the others.

He also wrote that Richard Jakupko and his family should be covered for pain and suffering customary to tort damages.

Justices Brent E. Dickson and Robert D. Rucker dissented in the third decision, opining that whether a separate physical impact occurred was irrelevant to the court's construction of insurance policy language saying "bodily injury to a person and sickness, disease or death which results from it."

Karl Mulvaney, who represented State Farm in the Jakupko case, said he was disappointed in the ruling but that he understands why the court decided the way it did. He said it's too early to tell if a rehearing will be requested.

Indianapolis attorney John Townsend III, who also represented the Jakupkos along with Montross, praised the court's decisions.

"This protects the traveling public from attempts by the insurance industry to whittle away at coverage beyond what the legislature requires and consumers have a right to expect," he said.
ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  2. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  3. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  4. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  5. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

ADVERTISEMENT