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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. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  2. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  3. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

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