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COA reverses award of attorney fees to couple

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found a trial court erred in awarding attorney fees to a couple that sued their insurer following a car accident. The trial court ruled that GEICO litigated the claim in bad faith.

Cheryl and Jim O’Mailia brought an underinsured motorist claim under their policy with GEICO after Cheryl O’Mailia was injured while riding as a passenger in someone else’s car. A week before trial, GEICO’s attorneys discovered on Florida Department of Public Health’s public website that Jim O’Mailia’s medical license was under investigation based on allegations he forged prescriptions for his wife, referred to as the Florida Information in the court record. He pleaded nolo contendere to violating five counts of Florida law by uttering a forged instrument and entered into a settlement.

GEICO did not alert the O’Mailias of the Florida Information it had found, and apparently the O’Mailias did not tell their counsel about the same. On cross-examination of Jim O’Mailia, the GEICO attorney brought up the Florida Information, leading to an objection by the O’Mailias. The GEICO attorney told the court their attorney did not disclose the information because he did not believe there was any obligation to based on trial rules.

Cheryl O’Mailia received a $125,000 judgment. The trial court denied the O’Mailias’ request for a new trial but awarded attorney fees under Ind. Code 34-52-1-1(b)(3), finding that GEICO litigated the action in bad faith with regard to its decision to not disclose the Florida Information. The court concluded that this failure to disclose ran afoul of Ind. Professional Conduct Rule 8.4(d).

In Geico General Insurance Company v. Laura B. Coyne, Cheryl A. O'Mailia, and James O'Mailia, 20A04-1307-CT-325, GEICO argued that it did not litigate in bad faith, and it points to the fact that it researched whether it had a duty to disclose and decided that there was none. The O’Mailias claimed that GEICO’s focus on the Indiana Trial Rules and Rules of Evidence is misplaced because the court found that GEICO’s counsel’s “actions were a breach of professionalism and courtesy and were prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Based on the statements by GEICO’s counsel, the appellate court concluded that the decision not to disclose the Florida Information was not borne out of ill will, and was not dishonest or immoral, but instead was strategic in nature and believed to be within the bounds of the law.

“Indeed, the O’Mailias, as well as the court, agreed with the results of GEICO’s research that neither the Trial Rules nor the Rules of Evidence compelled GEICO to disclose the information, nor has case law been uncovered imposing such a duty. We cannot say that such circumstances are indicative of litigating in bad faith,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote.

Judge Michael Barnes concurred, writing, “I do so with some hesitation, though, because I believe that trial by ambush and rabbit-out-of-the-hat moments are not to be favored in our courtrooms.”

 

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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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