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COA allows insurance dispute to proceed

November 3, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals found disputes of material fact in an insurance case in which the homeowners made misrepresentations in their application, ordering the trial court to take a closer look at whether the insurer rescinded the policy after discovering the misrepresentations.

In Michael Dodd and Katherine Dodd v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., No. 12A02-1010-CT-1414, homeowners Michael and Katherine Dodd admit that they made material misrepresentations on their application for homeowner’s insurance with American Family Mutual Insurance Co. when only Michael applied for the insurance and left Katherine off of the policy. A previous fire had destroyed the home owned by Katherine that she and Michael lived in before they were married, resulting in that insurer declining to renew the policy after reimbursement. After they rebuilt, Michael was the only one listed on the application with American Family.

Michael and Katherine married in 2000, a couple years after the original fire. Three years later, the Dodds’ garage and its contents were destroyed by a fire. While investigating the Dodds’ claim, American Family learned about the fire that had destroyed the Dodds’ previous home. The insurer denied their claim, said they would not renew the policy, and did not return the Dodds’ premiums until after final judgment was entered in January 2011 in American Family’s favor on the Dodds’ suit for breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The Court of Appeals found Michael’s misrepresentations made the insurance policy voidable at American Family’s option, but not void from the outset, in part based on how the policy is written. The Dodds argued that American Family failed to effectively exercise its option to void the policy because it didn’t return the Dodds’ premiums until after entry of final judgment.

The record doesn’t reveal whether American Family ever offered to return the premiums directly to the Dodds, so there are disputes of material fact as to whether the insurer effectively rescinded the policy after discovering the material misrepresentations and, if not, whether American Family breached the policy by denying the Dodds’ claim.

The judges upheld summary judgment on the issue of the Dodds’ claims for punitive damages and intentional infliction of emotional distress because the Dodds abandoned them during trial court proceedings.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.
 

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