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COA rules in favor of remodeler on unhappy client’s claim

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Finding the Clark Circuit Court erred in considering parol evidence when denying a remodeler’s motion for summary judgment, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the lower court should grant his motion on a lawsuit brought by a client for negligently performing work on her home.

Jenny Eldridge hired Kirstan Haub’s company American Handyman Service to do work and renovation projects around her home. At one point, he severed a gas line on her property and also did not refinish Eldridge’s hardwood floors properly. Haub sought to have his insurer, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance, cover the cost for the work on the floors, but his insurer found the policy excluded coverage for defects in workmanship.

Eldrige later hired an attorney, who sought to settle with IFBI for the additional costs that Eldridge claimed she had to pay for work that was performed in a “negligent and unworkmanlike manner.”

Although her claims typically wouldn’t be covered by Haub’s insurance, a representative offered Eldridge $3,500 if Eldridge would sign a release of all claims against Haub and his company. She signed it and received the check.

But after the settlement, she sued Haub over the negligent work and property damage. Haub sought summary judgment, citing the release Eldridge signed. In her response, Eldridge designated as evidence a letter that her attorney allegedly sent to the IFBI representative which said her acceptance of the settlement wouldn’t preclude her claim against Haub for defective or incomplete work. The insurance company never received the letter.

Clark Circuit Special Judge Susan L. Orth cited the letter in her decision to deny Haub’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed in Kirstan Haub, d/b/a American Handyman Service v. Jenny Eldridge, 10A01-1203-PL-107, finding the language of the release to be unambiguous in that it prevents Eldridge from bringing any suit for the work at issue in the settlement and that Orth erred in considering parol evidence. The appellate court ordered the trial court to enter summary judgment in favor of Haub.

 

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