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COA rules in negligent application process case

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Addressing an issue today for the first time in state courts, the Indiana Court of Appeals had to determine whether a couple could sue their insurance broker for alleged negligence during the application process.

State courts have ruled on actions by an insured against an insurance company seeking recovery under a policy in cases such as Metropolitan Life v. Alterovitz, 214 Ind. 186, 196 14 N.E.2d 570, 574 (1938), but not in a case in which a person claims the insurance broker was negligent while filing out the application for insurance, leaving the person without any homeowner's insurance or specific coverage.

In Terence E. Brennan Jr. a/k/a Terry Brennan and Burt Insurance Co. v. Patricia and Harry Hall, No. 64A03-0811-CV-548, Terry Brennan and Burt Insurance Co. appealed the jury verdict finding them liable for negligently failing to procure insurance for the Halls.

Patricia Hall visited Brennan at his office and asked if he could get her homeowners insurance that specifically covered her dogs, including a Doberman pinscher; earthquakes; and a wood-burning stove. The insurance company Brennan selected for Hall doesn't provide insurance for Doberman pinschers; however, on the application, Brennan checked the "no" box to a question asking if the homeowner has any animals or exotic pets. Patricia, feeling rushed, signed the application without closely looking it over.

The Halls discovered they didn't have coverage for the dogs after their niece was bitten and they filed a claim with the insurance company, which was denied because the application didn't note they had a Doberman pinscher.

The Halls filed their own suit against Brennan and Burt Insurance, alleging negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, and constructive fraud by failing to acquire adequate insurance for the couple. The jury found Brennan and the company liable based on negligent failure to procure a policy. No damages were assessed because of a pending lawsuit between the Halls and the niece.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals addressed a similar issue in Roe v. Sewell, 128 F.3d 1098 (7th Cir. 1997), in which it limited the ruling in Alterovitz to cases by an insurance applicant directly against an insurance company. Alterovitz doesn't prohibit suits by an insurance applicant against an agent who may have been negligent in the application process, wrote Judge Michael Barnes.

"We hold that if an agent is negligent in assisting a client complete an insurance application, and such negligence leads to a basis for the insurance company to deny coverage to the applicant and/or revoke the policy, the applicant may seek damages from the agent, even if the applicant signed or ratified the application after having a chance to review it," he wrote.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict.

The Court of Appeals did mention that Patricia may share some of the blame for the inaccurate application and as under Roe, it may be appropriate to assess her fault in accordance with the Comparative Fault Act. Brennan and Burt Insurance failed to make such an argument before the court, wrote Judge Barnes.

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  1. "So we broke with England for the right to "off" our preborn progeny at will, and allow the processing plant doing the dirty deeds (dirt cheap) to profit on the marketing of those "products of conception." I was completely maleducated on our nation's founding, it would seem. (But I know the ACLU is hard at work to remedy that, too.)" Well, you know, we're just following in the footsteps of our founders who raped women, raped slaves, raped children, maimed immigrants, sold children, stole property, broke promises, broke apart families, killed natives... You know, good God fearing down home Christian folk! :/

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  3. Whilst it may be true that Judges and Justices enjoy such freedom of time and effort, it certainly does not hold true for the average working person. To say that one must 1) take a day or a half day off work every 3 months, 2) gather a list of information including recent photographs, and 3) set up a time that is convenient for the local sheriff or other such office to complete the registry is more than a bit near-sighted. This may be procedural, and hence, in the near-sighted minds of the court, not 'punishment,' but it is in fact 'punishment.' The local sheriffs probably feel a little punished too by the overwork. Registries serve to punish the offender whilst simultaneously providing the public at large with a false sense of security. The false sense of security is dangerous to the public who may not exercise due diligence by thinking there are no offenders in their locale. In fact, the registry only informs them of those who have been convicted.

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  5. A common refrain in the comments on this website comes from people who cannot locate attorneys willing put justice over retainers. At the same time the judiciary threatens to make pro bono work mandatory, seemingly noting the same concern. But what happens to attorneys who have the chumptzah to threatened the legal status quo in Indiana? Ask Gary Welch, ask Paul Ogden, ask me. Speak truth to power, suffer horrendously accordingly. No wonder Hoosier attorneys who want to keep in good graces merely chase the dollars ... the powers that be have no concerns as to those who are ever for sale to the highest bidder ... for those even willing to compromise for $$$ never allow either justice or constitutionality to cause them to stand up to injustice or unconstitutionality. And the bad apples in the Hoosier barrel, like this one, just keep rotting.

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