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COA adopts common-sense rule on providing insurance policies

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has adopted a common-sense rule many other courts throughout the country have implemented, in requiring insurers to provide copies of their insurance policies to the insured if they ask for one following a loss.

If that doesn’t happen, the state’s intermediate appellate court holds that the insurer would then be banned from arguing in subsequent litigation that a policy holder didn’t comply with all the terms and couldn’t receive coverage.

The ruling comes today in Auto-Owners Insurance Company v. Gary Hughes, 18A02-1006-PL-659, a case out of Delaware Circuit Court where Judge John Feick had denied a summary judgment from Auto-Owners Insurance that a home fire insurance coverage suit was barred by a one-year statute of limitations.

An arson fire in March 2002 destroyed Gary Hughes’ home in Eaton, and part of his insurance policy with Auto-Owners said that the company couldn’t be sued unless there’s full compliance with all of the policy terms and that the suit must be filed within a year of the loss or damage. Hughes hired a public adjuster as his agent and 11 months later, Auto-Owners denied the claim due to “arson, fraud, misrepresentation, false swearing, and lack of determination of ownership or an insurable interest.” Hughes filed a breach of contract and breach of duty suit in May 2003, 14 months following the loss.

The insurance company argued that Hughes’ suit should be barred because it wasn’t filed within a year, but the trial court twice denied summary judgment motions. The court ruled in favor of Auto-Owners on the punitive damage claim but denied the bad faith claim and one-year limitation defense, and a jury awarded Hughes $166,792.83 in damages.

One of the issues on appeal became whether Hughes had received a copy of his insurance policy following the loss, as he claimed to have requested. He argued that Auto-Owners shouldn’t be able to raise that claim, as it didn’t provide him with a copy, while the insurance company contended it had supplied him with one.

Specifically, the appellate panel found that the principles of equity and fairness create a limited duty to provide a copy of an insurance policy when the insured has requested one, and that failure to discharge that duty would prevent an insurer from asserting noncompliance with policy terms. Citing caselaw from Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin, the Hoosier appellate panel adopted that rule as its own.

“We think that this rule reflects the realities of the typical relationship between an insurance company and an insured, at least when the insured is a private individual,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote. “Very few insureds will ever read, much less attempt to understand, their insurance policies, unless of course they happen to suffer a loss. We also venture to guess that very few homeowners will ever take the precaution of storing a copy of their policy at a secure location outside of the home, making it that much more likely that a copy will be destroyed in a loss and not be available when needed most.”

But even with that holding, Hughes lost because the case record proved that Auto-Owners had supplied him with a copy of his policy within a month of his loss in March 2002. Therefore, Auto-Owners should have been able to raise the one-year limitation argument and should have prevailed on that point, the appellate court ruled.

The case was reversed and remanded to the trial court with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Auto-Owners.

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  1. 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.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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