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Court hits on 2 first impression issues about prejudgment interest

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a trial judge decision against awarding a litigant prejudgment interest in an uninsured motorist case, examining two issues of first impression and finding that state statute warrants the litigant receive that money even when it exceeds insurance policy limits for those types of claims.

A unanimous decision came today in Kathy Inman v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., No. 41A01-1005-CT-223, which involves a Johnson County woman’s action against State Farm Insurance Company stemming from a November 2006 car collision. Kathy Inman sued on grounds that the other driver was negligent when he struck the rear of her vehicle. Though she later settled with that driver’s insurance company for the $50,000 limit, Inman amended her complaint against State Farm seeking an additional $50,000 in underinsured motorist benefits from her policy that had a $100,000 per person liability cap.

In June 2009, she filed a written offer to settle the case for the policy limit of $50,000, pursuant to Indiana Code 34-51-4-6. State Farm didn’t respond to that request, and earlier this year a jury returned a verdict in Inman’s favor for $50,000. She filed a motion for prejudgment interest in the amount of $3,616.44, plus $13.10 per day after that filing on April 12, 2010. Special Judge Richard Tandy summarily denied that motion.

Analyzing that state law known as the Tort Prejudgment Interest Statute, the appellate court looked at State Farm’s contention that Inman doesn’t meet the TPIS requirements because an underinsured motorist claim is not a civil action arising out of tortious conduct as required by the statute. Though no Indiana cases address that issue, the panel turned to Woods v. Farmers Insurance of Columbus, Inc, 666 N.E.2d 283 (Ohio Ct. App. 1995) for guidance, as well as rulings from Oklahoma, North Carolina, Georgia, and Louisiana.

“We find the reasoning of these cases, as well as similar ones in other jurisdictions, to be persuasive,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “We therefore hold that a claim against one’s insurer for underinsured motorist benefits is a civil action arising out of tortious conduct, and the award of prejudgment interest pursuant to IC 34-51-4-5 in such a case is appropriate.”

The court also looked at prejudgment interest in excess of the policy limits, a second issue that no Indiana court has addressed. They looked to Potomac Insurance Company v. Howard, 813 S.W.2d 557 (Tex Ct. App. 1991) for guidance, as well as the Michigan Supreme Court in Denham v. Bedford, 287 N.W.2d 168 (Mich. 1979).

“Here, based on the purpose of the TPIS as well as public policy considerations as already stated in Denham, we hold that an insurer can be required to pay prejudgment interest in excess of uninsured and/or underinsured motorist limits in an action brought by an insured for failure to pay uninsured and/or underinsured motorist coverage,” Judge Riley wrote.

The holding is consistent with what the Northern District of Indiana concluded in Schimizzi v. Illinois Farmers Insurance Company, 928 F. Supp. 760 (N.D. Ind. 1996), and also with the Indiana Supreme Court’s treatment in Cahoons v. Cummings, 734 N.E.2d 535, 547 (Ind. 2000) of prejudgment interest in medical malpractice cases where the court had held a qualified health care provider is responsible for collateral litigation prejudgment interest expenses over the statutory cap.

“The rationale for this treatment is the same rationale set forth in other civil actions arising out of tortious conduct,” the court wrote. “Specifically, in Cahoons, the Indiana supreme court explained that if the defendant has the option to terminate the dispute at a known dollar cost, and chooses not to do so, that defendant and not the plaintiff should bear the cost of the time and value of money in the intervening period if the ultimate result is within the parameters of the legislature.”

Noting State Farm didn’t challenge the prejudgment interest amount here, the appellate court reversed the trial judge and ordered that amount be paid.
 

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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