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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. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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