Court allows relief under Crime Victims Statute

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Contract provisions that exempt a party from liability under the Indiana Crime Victims Statute are void when the party violates public policy, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

In The State Group Industrial (USA) Unlimited v. Murphy & Associates Industrial Services, No. 82A04-0703-CV-158, State Group appealed the trial court judgment denying the company's request for relief under Indiana Code 34-24-3-1, the Crime Victims Statute. The trial court awarded State Group actual damages, but denied relief under the statute based on a contract provision between State Group and Murphy & Associates (M&A).

M&A prepared an estimate for State Group regarding supplying materials for a control system project in Texas in which State Group was the prime contractor. The project aimed to ensure the safety of a community's drinking water. At a meeting between the two companies, M&A confirmed that salinity probes, which are necessary components for the control system, would be part of the contract and M&A would provide engineering for the start-up process.

Once M&A began submitting invoices to State Group for payment, there were discrepancies between the invoices and the original contract. The two companies did not discuss changing the terms of the contract and M&A misrepresented to State Group that it had paid for materials in full and no other party had claim on the materials for the control system.

State Group paid the invoices in full, but did not receive the salinity probes and necessary cabling. State Group was forced to hire a replacement subcontractor to obtain the materials, including necessary software, which M&A was supposed to provide. M&A filed a complaint against State Group alleging breach of contract. State Group counterclaimed, saying that M&A breached the contract. State Group also claimed fraud, and sought damages under the Crime Victims Statute.

The trial court found M&A breached the contract and knowingly made numerous false or misleading statements, and awarded State Group actual damages.

The trial court concluded M&A violated I.C. 35-43-5-3, committing deception, which allowed State Group to bring an action under the Crime Victims Statute. The issue of whether a contract provision can exempt a party from liability under this statute for violating public policy is something Indiana hasn't ruled on, wrote Judge Margret Robb. Other states have ruled that a party may not contract against liability for intentional tortuous acts.

Other states' courts have ruled public policy violations are not included in contract liability protection clauses when the conduct is intentional, a matter of gross negligence, or willful and wanton misconduct. The Indiana appellate court is more likely to hold an exculpatory clause to be against public policy when it affects public interest in utilities, she wrote in a footnote.

Recovery under the Crime Victims Statute is not based on breach of contract, but must be predicated on an independent tort, wrote Judge Robb. Under Indiana law, a contract may release a party from liability for damages caused by its own negligence, but these clauses must specifically and explicitly refer to the negligence of the party seeking release from liability, Avant v. Cmty. Hosp., 826 N.E.2d 7, 10 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

Release from liability cannot happen if the contract provisions are phrased in general terms. The indemnification clause in the contract between State Group and M&A was not specific, as it did not refer to the criminal or fraudulent conduct on the part of M&A, thus M&A was not protected from liability under the Crime Victims Statute.

The appellate court remanded the case to the trial court with instructions that it exercise its discretion in determining whether to award damages and the amount of any damages.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.