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COA reverses judgment in title insurance issue

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has declined to extend to an insurance agent the duty of an insurer as declared by the state’s highest court. In doing so, the judges reversed the denial of a title insurance company’s motion for summary judgment.

In Meridian Title Corporation v. Gainer Group, LLC, No. 46A03-1006-PL-312, Gainer Group LLC sued Meridian Title Corporation, alleging Meridian failed to properly handle Gainer Group’s claim in a lawsuit involving a piece of property. The Ruth N. Cathey Trust sold some property to the Gainer Group and the trust engaged Meridian to procure title insurance for the property. After the sale, the trust claimed it mistakenly sold more land to Gainer Group than it had intended.

Meridian tried to facilitate a resolution, but the trust ended up suing Gainer Group to recover the piece of property it didn’t want to sell. That’s when Gainer Group filed its lawsuit against Meridian, seeking to recover litigation expenses and attorney fees it incurred prior to its insurer accepting the claim.

There’s no evidence of an intimate, long-term relationship between Meridian and Gainer Group that would require Meridian to perform a duty that extends beyond its general duty to exercise reasonable care, skill, and good-faith diligence in obtaining the insurance policy, wrote Senior Judge John Sharpnack. But the facts of the case do constitute a special circumstance that triggers an extended duty to advise on the part of Meridian.

Meridian tried to facilitate a settlement between the trust and Gainer Group at its offices. At this meeting, Meridian’s president and CEO pointed to a provision in the title policy and said that Gainer Group didn’t have a claim because it had closed without a survey. Meridian also had a financial interest in no claim being made under Gainer Group’s policy of title insurance, the judge continued.

Meridian had this extended duty to advise Gainer Group regarding coverage, and it fulfilled that duty, the Court of Appeals concluded.

Gainer Group cited Erie Ins. Co. v. Hickman by Smith, 622 N.E.2d 515 (Ind. 1993), to support its argument that Meridian owed it a duty of good faith and fair dealing beyond its general duty of reasonable care, skill, and good-faith diligence. But that case dealt with the duty of an insurer to an insured. In the instant case, Meridian is an agent.

“Our Supreme Court has yet to extend this duty to an agent; rather, an insurance agent’s duty does not extend beyond the general duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and good faith diligence in obtaining a policy of insurance unless the evidence, through certain factors as set forth above, establishes a special relationship,” wrote Senior Judge Sharpnack. “Therefore, we decline Gainer Group’s invitation to extend the application of the duty of an insurer as set out by the Supreme Court in Erie.”

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  3. 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.

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