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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. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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