ILNews

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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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