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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. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

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