Judges affirm attorney fees from State Farm’s ‘groundless’ lawsuit

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A car dealership accused of playing a role in a car fire that destroyed four cars and part of a man’s home is entitled to the more than $12,000 in attorney fees awarded to it after State Farm’s negligence lawsuit was dismissed. The Indiana Court of Appeals noted the insurer’s refusal to dismiss the claim despite knowing the dealership was not at fault for the fire.

Kenneth Burkhart, insured through State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., filed a claim with State Farm after his 2006 GMC truck caught fire while parked in his garage. The fire engulfed the garage, the truck and three other cars, and a portion of his house. Burkhart said the last people to enter the engine compartment were employees of H.H. Niswander. The dealership had performed an oil change on his truck about a week before the fire.

State Farm instituted an investigation and Timothy Herndon and Walter Herndon, of Herndon & Associates, determined the fire was a result of oil leaking from the engine and into the ignition. It was classified as an accidental fire. The report was concluded ten months before State Farm filed its complaint.

During a deposition of State Farm’s experts, Timothy Herndon explained that he believed the oil change had nothing to do with the fire and it was due to a manufacturing defect. State Farm refused to dismiss the case. The dealership filed a motion to dismiss and sought sanctions and fees. The trial court dismissed it with prejudice and ordered State Farm to pay $12,503.39 in attorney fees incurred by H.H. Niswander, noting that State Farm knew prior to filing the suit that the dealership did not cause the fire.

In State Farm Fire & Casualty Company a/s/o Kenneth Burkhart v. H.H. Niswander, 35A02-1307-CT-638, State Farm appealed the order to pay attorney fees. But the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding State Farm’s lawsuit was groundless.

“Based on our standard of review, we cannot find with a definite and firm conviction that the trial court made a mistake in determining that State Farm pursued the lawsuit against H.H. Niswander without evidence that H.H. Niswander was negligent or caused the fire,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.