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Justices divided on proper sanction for attorney actions

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The majority of Indiana Supreme Court justices found the trial court was within its discretion to dismiss a personal injury action because of the plaintiff’s attorney’s actions.

In Rickey D. Whitaker v. Travis M. Becker, No. 02S03-1201-CT-27, the justices granted transfer to the Allen County case, but came to different conclusions as to how the actions of Rickey Whitaker’s attorney should be handled. Whitaker filed a personal injury lawsuit against Travis Becker following a car accident. Whitaker’s attorney ignored repeated requests to provide information about his client’s medical treatment, and when he did respond, the attorney gave false and misleading information. Whitaker claimed he was waiting to have back surgery because he didn’t have any money to pay for the surgery when at the time of the sworn response, he already had the surgery scheduled.

Becker’s attorney didn’t find out about the surgery until Whitaker’s attorney sent a letter – the day the surgery happened. Becker’s counsel argued that the surgery seriously undermined the value of a post-operative examination in helping to establish whether the accident or Whitaker’s preexisting degenerative disc disease caused his bulging disc condition because the surgery would have removed part of the disc.

The Allen Circuit Court granted Becker’s attorney’s request for dismissal of the case. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, reinstating the case and ordering Whitaker pay $625 of Becker’s attorney fees. Justice Frank Sullivan agreed with the COA’s decision, but three of the justices agreed that the trial court’s dismissal was the appropriate action.

“We think an experienced trial judge could easily conclude that a surgery to remove a disc and fuse two vertebrae together would generate evidentiary problems for a defendant trying to prove that the plaintiff’s need for surgery really resulted from a preexisting condition — a degenerative disc disease,” wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard for the majority.

Justice Robert Rucker also dissented without opinion.

 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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