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Court divides over injury claim under insurance policy

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split today on whether a couple’s emotional distress claim constitutes “bodily injury” under their uninsured motorist coverage.

John and Sarah Taele witnessed in the rear-view mirror of their car the car accident that killed their daughter. She was riding in the car behind them when it was hit by an uninsured motorist. A piece of debris from the accident may have hit their car but they were not injured.  

The Taeles filed a complaint against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. seeking uninsured motorist benefits for their emotional distress claims. State Farm claimed it didn’t have to pay the UM coverage because the Taeles didn’t sustain any “bodily injury” in the accident as defined by their policy and their alleged emotional distress from seeing their daughter die didn’t qualify as such an injury. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer.

In John Taele and Sarah Taele v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. 06A01-1004-CT-259, the judges took into account several previous cases in their decisions to affirm or reverse the trial court, including Shuamber v. Henderson, 579 N.E.2d 452 (Ind. 1991), in which the Indiana Supreme Court established the “direct impact” test in negligent infliction of emotional distress claims; and Groves v. Taylor, 749 N.E.2d 569 (Ind. 2000), which held if the direct impact test is not met, a bystander may establish direct involvement by proving he or she witnessed or came onto the scene soon after the death or severe injury of a loved one caused by the defendant’s negligent conduct.

Judges Michael Barnes and Ezra Friedlander concluded based on State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Jakupko, 881 N.E.2d 654 (Ind. 2008), Elliot v. Allstate Ins. Co., 881 N.E.2d 662 (Ind. 2008), State Farm Mutual Ins. Co. v. D.L.B., 881 N.E.2d 665 (Ind. 2008), Bush v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 905 N.E.2d 1003 (Ind. 2009), and Armstrong v. Federated Mutual Ins. Co., 785 N.E.2d 284 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), that the Taeles aren’t entitled to recover UM benefits because they weren’t directly impacted or directly physically injured by the accident.

“It does seem slightly incongruous that persons having NIED claims arising in a Shuamber-type scenario may be entitled to recover UM benefits for ‘bodily injury,’ but those having equally valid NIED claims arising in a Groves-type scenario are not so entitled,” wrote Judge Barnes. “Nonetheless, we presume that if our supreme court intended Groves-type claims to be covered under the definition of ‘bodily injury’ for purposes of insurance policy and UM statutory interpretation, it would have mentioned that case at some point in Jakupko, Elliott, D.L.B., or Bush.”

Judge Terry Crone dissented from his colleagues’ view that the Taeles didn’t sustain any “direct impact” in the accident and that their NIED claim arises under the Groves rule, not the Shuamber test. He compared the instant case to Conder v. Wood, 716 N.E.2d 432 (Ind. 1999), in which the Supreme Court held that plaintiff Wood sustained the requisite direct impact necessary to maintain an NIED action when she pounded on the side of the defendant’s truck, which hit her friend, to try to get the truck to stop before it crushed her friend. A piece of debris hit the windshield of the Taeles’ car and “in my view, this is sufficient to establish a ‘direct impact’ for purposes of the modified impact rule,” he wrote.

“The critical commonality here is that both Wood and the Taeles personally witnessed the tragic accidents that killed their friend and daughter, respectively, and thus were ‘directly involved’ in the tortfeasors’ negligent conduct,” he wrote, adding he would reverse summary judgment and remand for further proceedings.

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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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