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Contractor wins on appeal of $14.5M damages award for defamation

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State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. is on the hook for $14.5 million in damages after a contractor prevailed on his defamation claim against the insurer. The award is one of the largest defamation damages in the country, according to the court.

State Farm was in the midst of receiving bad press for its denial of homeowners’ claims for hail damage to their roofs following a 2006 spring storm in central Indiana. Joseph Radcliff created Coastal Property Management to help State Farm homeowners identify and repair damage, and file claims. State Farm began looking into CPM’s work, and the insurer hired engineers to inspect roofs of homeowners whose claims were denied. Some reports showed damage caused by hail or wind, but some claimed that mechanical damage was caused intentionally by CPM. State Farm only forwarded information unfavorable toward CPM to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which forwarded its findings to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

Radcliff was arrested for multiple counts including insurance fraud, attempted theft and corrupt business influence. After his arrest, State Farm issued a statement to an Indianapolis television station that had covered State Farm’s denial of claims, saying the company is committed to fighting fraud. Radcliff’s arrest led his company to lose significant business.

The charges were dropped after Radcliff admitted there was probable cause for his arrest for misdemeanor criminal mischief. Later, State Farm filed a lawsuit in Hamilton County against Radcliff and his company, alleging racketeering and insurance fraud. Radcliff countersued for defamation and won the large damages award after a six-week trial in 2011.

In State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Joseph Martin Radcliff and Coastal Property Management LLC, a/k/a CPM Construction of Indiana, 29A04-1111-CT-571, State Farm appealed, arguing that its communications with NICB and IMPD were protected by statutory immunity and a common-law privilege for reporting crime, and that Radcliff failed to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.

 Judge Nancy Vaidik authored the 61-page unanimous decision, writing that evidence shows State Farm lacked grounds for belief in the truth of their statements sent to NICB because they only sent portions of the reports that were favorable to their claims. Evidence also pointed to CPM being targeted because Radcliff talked to the local news about State Farm’s denial of claims and the insurer had faced recent bad press.

“Here, the jury heard testimony of a man whose whole world – professionally and personally – was destroyed by State Farm’s accusations and the accusations’ role in his arrest, and it heard from Dr. (Bruce) Jaffee, who testified that Radcliff had $7.5 million in lost earnings, and Dr. (Kim) Saxton, who explained that Radcliff’s reputation was in a ‘virtually unrecoverable’ place. The jury’s damage award does not punish State Farm; rather, it attempts to compensate Radcliff for the longstanding consequences it caused on the only profession that Radcliff ever knew. Accordingly, the $14.5 million damage award is not excessive,” Vaidik wrote.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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