ILNews

COA: Duty to defend not triggered

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Frustrated with the parties involved in the litigation, the Indiana Court of Appeals April 17 reversed a trial court's ruling in a case involving public-access laws, fraud, and an insurer's duty to defend.

In Allianz Insurance Company, et al. v. Guidant Corporation, et al., No. 49A05-0704-CV-216, Chief Judge John Baker wrote the unanimous opinion regarding the "monstrosity of a litigation that has crossed state lines" is a straightforward dispute about when and whether an insurer's duty to defend had been triggered. The judge cited the court's frustration that the parties forced Indiana courts to take part in a race to the finish with Illinois courts.

Allianz began providing insurance to Guidant and its subsidiaries (the policyholders) in 1997. In 1999, the Food and Drug Administration approved the Ancure Device, a Y-shaped graft inserted inside the major aortic blood vessel to support a weakened vessel wall; it was made by a Guidant subsidiary.

When Guidant provided its application for coverage from Sept. 1, 2000, to Sept. 1, 2001, it noted it was unaware of any defects in its products that would give rise to liability claims. Allianz approved the year's insurance coverage, including any entitlement to a defense from its insurers is subject to a self-insured retention (SIR). Once Guidant absorbs the expenses up to the amount of the SIR, the insurer's obligation is then triggered.

Guidant's policy had a SIR of $5 million per occurrence and $8 million in the aggregate. A batch clause included in the policy said when all losses come from one batch - products with the same known defect identified by the same advisory memorandum sent to health professionals warning of such defects - then all losses will be considered one occurrence.

In March 2001, Guidant announced a voluntary recall of the Ancure Device, and the FDA investigated the company's failure to make certain disclosures about the device's performance. In November 2003, Allianz filed a complaint against Guidant in Illinois seeking damages and rescission of the policy for fraud. That same month, Guidant filed a complaint in Indiana against the insurers alleging they breached their duty to defend and that Guidant is entitled to coverage for those losses.

In Indiana, the trial court denied Allianz's motion for partial summary judgment on coverage issues relating to the SIR because Guidant proved the applicable $5 million SIR had been met for the year through the batch clause; Allianz didn't appeal this decision.

The trial court also entered an order striking the John P. Killacky affidavit, which supported the insurer's fraud defense. The court granted Guidant's motion for partial summary judgment against Allianz on its claim for breach of duty to defend. The insurer appealed these two rulings.

Guidant appealed the trial court denial of its motion for judgment on the pleadings on Allianz's fraud defense, which ruled the alleged fraud is best answered by a trier of fact.

Before ruling on the issues on appeal, Chief Judge Baker first addressed the public-access issue of this case. The trial court entered a protective order sealing the case from public view, which would have been allowed had the trial court followed Administrative Rule 9(H)(2) and conducted a public hearing first. Sealing the case was improper and violated Indiana's public-access laws regarding court records, he wrote. And because there is no confidential information in the record, briefs, or issues, the appellate court did not hold back from giving a full description of the facts, arguments, or resolution of the issues.

On the issue of Allianz's fraud defense, Guidant argued because the insurer did not rescind the policy and retained the premiums received, it can't argue the policy is void because of fraud. Allianz incorrectly relied on Indiana and Illinois caselaw to show it has the right to partial rescission by retaining all the premiums and rescinding only part of the policy. Neither Indiana nor Illinois provides the option of partial rescission to a party asserting fraud, and thus, the trial court should have granted Guidant's motion for judgment on the pleadings on Allianz's fraud defense, wrote Chief Judge Baker.

Also, because this defense is no longer a part of the appeal, the court didn't address Allianz's challenge of the trial court order striking the Killacky Affidavit, which supported the fraud defense.

Allianz argued summary judgment in favor of Guidant on its duty to defend claim was an error because its duty to defend was suspended when Allianz filed the Illinois action. Chief Judge Baker wrote while it is true the act of filing a declaratory action protects the insurer's right to raise coverage defenses, and it's free to disassociate itself from the case and seek reimbursement for its expenses incurred up to that point in time, the mere act of filing a declaratory action doesn't suspend the duty to defend. If such a rule existed, insurers would file a declaratory action in every case, he wrote.

However, the trial court did err in granting partial summary judgment in favor of Guidant on this issue. Indiana law states that only after a SIR is exhausted does an insurer's duty to defend kick in. The trial court erred in concluding the mere potential for coverage is enough. Guidant argued that the batch clause was satisfied for the year in question and they reached their $5 million SIR. The company had mailed "Dear Doctor" letters in March 2001 and May 2001 informing doctors about issues raised regarding the Ancure Device and various recalls, but the letters sought to ensure the medical community the products were safe, not warning of dangers. As such, the letters don't qualify as advisory memorandum needed to trigger the batch clause, Chief Judge Baker wrote.

The appellate court reversed the grant of partial summary judgment on the duty to defend claims; however, because Allianz did not appeal the order, the court is unable to direct summary judgment in the insurer's favor.

The appeals court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings.
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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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