ILNews

COA: insurer owed duty to defend

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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After nearly 10 years of litigation, the Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a grant of summary judgment in favor of an insurance company because the company couldn't show it was prejudiced by a late notice from its insured as a matter of law.

In the unanimous 27-page opinion, Tri-Etch Inc., et al v. Cincinnati Insurance Co., No. 49A02-0709-CV-827, the appellate court ruled in favor of the appellants-plaintiffs in this appeal - Tri-Etch, which provides security services; the estate of Michael Young; and Scottsdale Insurance Co., which provided insurance to Tri-Etch with a $1 million limit of liability.

The back-and-forth litigation between Tri-Etch, the estate, and Scottsdale and Cincinnati Insurance Co., which also provided a commercial general liability (CGL) and umbrella policy to Tri-Etch, began in 1999 after the estate filed a complaint against Tri-Etch.

Tri-Etch provided security for Muncie Liquors and would call a store's general manager if the store's night alarm wasn't set within 30 minutes of closing. Michael Young, an employee at the liquor store, was found beaten outside of the store after Tri-Etch called the store's owner at 3:15 a.m. The store closed at midnight and the alarm wasn't set, but Tri-Etch didn't call the general manager to make sure everything was OK at the store until 3:15 a.m. Young subsequently died of his injuries, and the complaint alleged he would have lived had Tri-Etch called at 12:30 a.m. once it realized the alarm wasn't set.

At issue in this case are two orders granted by Marion County trial courts. In 2006, the first order granted partial summary judgment in favor of Tri-Etch and the appellants on the bad faith counterclaim brought by Cincinnati. It granted partial summary judgment to the appellants finding that Young's death is covered under Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies and denied Scottsdale and Cincinnati's motions for summary judgment regarding Scottsdale's claim to recover 50 percent of the legal fees and costs Scottsdale paid to defend Tri-Etch.

Cincinnati claimed it didn't learn of the litigation until 2004, just before the claim was to go to trial. The insurance company informed Tri-Etch that the estate's claim wasn't covered by either of its policies with Cincinnati, so it wouldn't be responsible to pay a portion of the $2.5 million in damages the estate won against Tri-Etch.

The second order issued in 2007 granted summary judgment in favor of Cincinnati and ordered that Tri-Etch's late notice to Cincinnati was unreasonably late as a matter of law, and due to the prejudice arising from the untimely notice, the company owes no coverage or indemnity to Tri-Etch.

The Indiana Court of Appeals determined that Cincinnati wasn't prejudiced by Tri-Etch's allegedly late notice because the insurance company consistently maintained Tri-Etch wasn't entitled to coverage for the claim, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. As a result, the appellate court reversed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Cincinnati in the second order and remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of the appellants.

Regarding the first order, the judges concluded Tri-Etch is entitled to coverage pursuant to both Cincinnati's CGL and umbrella policies, requiring Cincinnati to be responsible for $1.5 million in damages the estate won.

The court also remanded the issue of Cincinnati's liability for defense costs to Scottsdale because Scottsdale defended Tri-Etch from the start of the claim.

"Because we have concluded that coverage existed under Cincinnati's policies, each of which contained duty-to-defend provisions, it logically follows that Cincinnati must pay a portion of the costs Scottsdale incurred while defending Tri-Etch during the liability litigation," the chief judge wrote.

The appellate court remanded the issue to the trial court to determine when Cincinnati received notice of the claim to determine the amount of reasonable defense costs Cincinnati should pay.
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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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