COA affirms $17.9 million judgment against firm

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Two years ago, a jury hit an Indianapolis law firm with a $17.9 million verdict after it found the firm liable for a failed health plan that left 8,200 Hoosier with unpaid medical bills.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed an appeal from that general jury verdict and judgment in favor of the state's insurance commissioner, Jim Atterholt. The 37-page opinion, which includes a two-page dissent from Judge Carr Darden, comes in Frederick W. Dennerline III, and Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe v. Jim Atterholt, Insurance Commissioner of the State of Indiana as Liquidator of Indiana Construction Industry Trust, No. 49A04-0610-CV-557.

A Marion Circuit Court jury handed down the $17,991,043 verdict in August 2006 after a six-day trial. The jury found the then 43-year-old firm completely liable for not notifying trustees about growing financial losses in the Indiana Construction Industry Trust, created by a dozen construction-related companies to cover nonunion employees. The health plan went insolvent in 2002 after two executives were imprisoned for embezzling money from the plan. While the Indiana Department of Insurance settled with all other original defendants sued, the law firm was the only one of about 80 defendants to fight the state and go to trial, attorneys said at the time.

The firm raised six issues on appeal that included preserving error about a legal malpractice expert's testimony, and whether the trial court abused its discretion in ruling on discovery motions and one of the four legal theories used relating to legal malpractice liability. The appellate panel majority - authoring Judge Terry Crone and Judge Melissa May - affirmed on all the issues.

"We agree with the Commissioner that the $17.9 million verdict is supported by ample evidence that the ICIT's demise was caused by Dennerline's failure to advise the trustees of their duty under Article 14.01 of the trust agreement to 'cease and terminate' the trust ..." Judge Crone wrote.

"In sum, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Dennerline's motion to correct error as to fault allocation," the opinion states. "Accordingly, we affirm in all respects."

But in his separate opinion that agreed with the majority on all but one issue raised, Judge Darden dissented regarding the jury's finding on Dennerline's 100 percent fault.

"Essentially, I am unable to support the approval of what I believe to be a windfall to a State agency," he wrote, noting that he supports the argument that Atterholt lacks authority to recover the $7.6 million previously collected through liquidation. He added that the agency should be able to collect any legal costs, including attorneys' fees and interest, for prosecuting this action and any unsettled claims.

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  1. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  2. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.

  3. maybe if some of the socia workers would treat the foster parents better, they would continue to fostr.

  4. We have been asked to take in a 2 no old baby because mother is in very unstable situation. We want to do this but will need help with expenses such as medical and formula... Do we have to have custody thru court?

  5. Very troubling. A competent public defender is very much the right of every indigent person in the US or the Fifth amendment becomes meaningless. And considering more and more of us are becoming poorer and poorer under this "system," the need for this are greater than ever.... maybe they should study the Federals and see how they manage their program? And here's to thanking all the PD attorneys out there who do a good job.