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COA rules insurer has no duty to defend

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court's ruling that an insurance company doesn't have the duty to defend its client in lawsuits arising out of environmental contamination on its property, noting that if the court were to rule in favor of the client's arguments, insurance business practices would dramatically change.

Accepting Crawfordsville Square's argument - that its insurer, Monroe Guaranty Insurance Co., knew about possible contamination of land Crawfordsville purchased because the insurer was aware a dry cleaner previously operated at that location - would burden insurers with essentially the same duty of due diligence as potential insureds to investigate and discover known losses, wrote Judge Cale Bradford.

In Crawfordsville Square, LLC, et al. v. Monroe Guaranty Ins. Co., No. 54A01-0807-CV-327, Crawfordsville argued there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether it knew about contamination when it purchased a parcel of land and whether Monroe knew about it when it added the land to an existing insurance policy.

When Crawfordsville purchased the parcel in 1998, it contained a dry cleaner and car wash that sold gasoline. Crawfordsville member L.E. Kleinmaier Jr. sent a letter to the agent of the seller regarding testing and cleaning up of the site and that the company would still buy the land if an escrow account was established to pay an environmental firm for cleanup. Crawfordsville told Monroe there was a dry cleaner on the site and it wanted to add the parcel to its existing general commercial liability insurance policy. Crawfordsville didn't tell Monroe of any actual or potential contamination at the site, which turned out to exist.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Monroe and denied summary judgment for Crawfordsville on the insurer's duty to defend.

The "known loss" doctrine precludes coverage and excuses Monroe from its duty to defend, the appellate court ruled. Crawfordsville contended there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether it knew when it added the parcel to its insurance that a loss had occurred or could occur based on Kleinmaier's 1998 letter and his testimony in 2007 that the company only had knowledge of potential contamination at the site.

Crawfordsville is trying to create a genuine issue of material fact because of the contradictions of Kleinmaier's letter and testimony, but the law in Indiana doesn't allow for contradictory testimony contained in an affidavit of the non-movant to be used by him to create a summary judgment motion where the only issue of fact raised by the affidavit is the credibility of the affiant, wrote the judge. Although the facts are different than those stated in the "sham affidavit" case in Gaboury v. Ireland Rd. Grace Brethren, Inc., 446 N.E.2d 1310, 1314 (Ind. 1983), the rationale for the rule applies in the instant case.

Crawfordsville claimed it didn't have actual knowledge of the loss, but the letter it sent indicates knowledge of actionable contamination. Judge Bradford wrote in a footnote that ruling in favor of Crawfordsville on this point would "essentially reward" it for what may well have been "deceptive behavior on its part, and thereby serve as an unintended endorsement of the practice of exaggerating one's beliefs regarding possible or known contamination in order to negotiate a better price."

In addition, the mere knowledge that Monroe knew a dry cleaner had operated on the parcel at the time of closing doesn't create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether it had actual knowledge of actionable levels of contamination.

"Of course, such a ruling would have the effect of relieving the potential insureds of any practical duty of due diligence, as the insurance company would be performing it in any event, or failing to do so at its peril," wrote the judge in another footnote. "We are, to say the least, reluctant to endorse such a dramatic change in insurance business practice, i.e., to shift the financial incentive entirely to insurers to discover latent defects in property their insureds propose to buy and insure, thereby removing the incentive to do so from the insured - the party typically better positioned to carry out this task."

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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