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Company not bound by defiant agent's actions

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A trial court erred in finding that a company was bound by its insurance agency's acts even though the agency acted against the company's wishes, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today.

Lupke Rice Insurance Agency sued former client Maxitrol to recover workers' compensation insurance premiums the agency paid on behalf of Maxitrol to insurance providers EBI Cos. and Royal Sun Alliance. Audits by the insurers found Maxitrol improperly classified some workers and owed additional premiums. Lupke Rice paid those premiums against the wishes of Maxitrol, which challenged the adjustment to their premiums. Lupke Rice agent Stanley Rice never told Maxitrol the company paid the premiums until after Maxitrol ended its workers' compensation insurance with Lupke Rice.

Maxitrol and Lupke Rice didn't reach an agreement on the unpaid adjustments and Lupke Rice sued Maxitrol for the nearly $64,000 in premium adjustments. The trial court found in favor of Lupke Rice, ruling Maxitrol was bound by Lupke Rice's acts, and that Maxitrol ratified the agency's payment of the adjusted premiums.

In Maxitrol Co. v. Lupke Rice Insurance Agency, Inc., No. 02A03-0905-CV-216, Maxitrol argued it's not liable for the adjusted premiums because Lupke Rice disregarded its instructions not to pay them. The Indiana Supreme Court has said that a principal is bound by the acts of a general agent if the agent acted within the ordinary and usual business scope in which it was employed, even if the agent violated private instructions of the principal. If either an innocent principal or a third party must suffer due to the betrayal of an agent's trust, then the loss should fall on the principal as the party who is most at fault because it put the agent in the position of trust.

But the rationale behind the rule doesn't apply in the instant case, wrote Senior Judge John Sharpnack.

"Here, we have a disobedient agent seeking reimbursement rather than an innocent third party seeking to enforce an agent's representations," he wrote. "Further, where a principal has instructed an agent not to do something, and the agent disobeys the principal, the agent is clearly more at fault than the principal. The rule was not intended to protect a disobedient agent."

The trial court also erred in ruling that Maxitrol ratified Lupke Rice's payments to Royal Sun Alliance. To hold a principal liable on grounds of ratification - explicit or implicit - it must be shown the principal ratified upon full knowledge of all material facts, or that he was willfully ignorant. Maxitrol didn't know Lupke Rice paid the RSA the premium adjustments and didn't learn about them until more than a year after the last payment was made.

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  1. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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