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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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