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Appellate court affirms judgment in coverage dispute

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Indiana Evidence Rule 407 may bar evidence of subsequent insurance policy revisions offered to resolve ambiguity in an executed insurance contract, the Indiana Court of Appeals held today.

In a suit involving whether State Automobile Mutual Insurance Co. had a duty to defend and indemnify Flexdar Inc. following discovery of contamination on Flexdar’s property, Flexdar argued it should have been allowed to introduce a new policy endorsement form that State Auto drafted in 2004 – two years after Flexdar’s policy coverage ended – that specifically identified trichloroethylene and other substances as examples of “pollutants” under the insurer’s pollution exclusion. The policy Flexdar held didn’t specifically name any pollutants; TCE was found to have leaked from Flexdar’s premises and contaminated subsoil and groundwater. The trial court didn’t allow the 2004 policy into evidence.

The appellate court noted that Evidence Rule 407 is typically associated with personal injury and other negligence cases, but that it’s worded broadly and courts have applied it in other contexts, including intentional tort and contract claims. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has read the federal counterpart to Evidence Rule 407, which is substantially similar to the Indiana rule, to exclude evidence of subsequent policy revisions in insurance coverage.

Citing Pastor v. State Farm. Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 487, F.3d 1042, 1045 (7th Cir. 2007), the judges ruled in State Automobile Mutual Insurance Co. v. Flexdar, Inc. and RTS Realty, No. 49A02-1002-PL-111, that Evidence Rule 407 can bar evidence of subsequent policy revisions offered to resolve ambiguity in an insurance contract. As such, any modifications State Auto made to its policy forms in 2004 constitute subsequent remedial clarifications that aren’t admissible to interpret Flexdar’s insurance contract and prove the insurer’s liability, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. The trial court didn’t err by striking it from the designated evidence.

The trial court also didn’t err in finding State Auto’s pollution exclusion ambiguous and unenforceable. It relied on American States Insurance Co. v.  Kiger, 662 N.E.2d 945 (Ind. 1996), Seymour Manufacturing Co. Inc. v. Commercial Union Insurance Co., 665 N.E.2d 891 (Ind. 1996), Travelers Indemnity Co. v. Summit Corp. of America, N.E.2d 926 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999), and Freidline v. Shelby Insurance Co., 774 N.E. 2d 37 (Ind. 2002), finding the former three cases extend Kiger beyond its facts and affirm generally the ambiguity of the absolute pollution exclusion.

“We conclude, pursuant to the last fourteen years of precedent, that State Auto’s absolute pollution exclusion is ambiguous, must be construed in favor of the insured, and therefore will not operate to preclude coverage in connection with Flexdar’s TCE leakage,” she wrote. “Under Kiger and its progeny … an insurance policy must be specific if it wishes to except from coverage claims relating a particular alleged contaminant. It is within the province only of our Supreme Court to decide otherwise.”

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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!!!

  5. 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.

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