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Court relies on equitable estoppel determination test

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Examining both state and national caselaw in an appeal involving an Allen County car crash, the Indiana Court of Appeals has used a two-part test in determining whether equitable estoppel is available to those filing a claim.

The Indiana Court of Appeals issued a decision today in Janice L. Davis v. Shelter Insurance Companies, State Farm Insurance Companies, and Jennifer Culver, No. 02A05-1105-CT-256.

Stemming from a case before Allen Superior Judge David Avery, the appeal involves a January 2008 car crash between Janice Davis and Jennifer Culver in which Davis was injured. Shelter insured Davis while State Farm insured Culver, and Davis received treatment paid for by her insurance company. A State Farm representative phoned Davis after the accident and told her that she wasn’t able to call State Farm about the accident until she completed treatment and was ready to settle the claim.

The insurance companies communicated and early the following year, Davis told another State Farm representative she’d provide full medical documentation of her treatment when she was ready to settle. The statute of limitation on Davis’ claim ran out on Jan. 3, 2010, and Davis was still receiving treatment at the time.

She asked State Farm to settle her claim of nearly $4,339 in March 2010, but State Farm informed her the statute of limitations had expired. Davis hired an attorney and filed a complaint in June 2010, and after both parties submitted motions for judgment the trial court granted summary judgment for State Farm and Culver.

On appeal, the judges disagreed with Davis’ claim that equitable estoppel barred the statute of limitations defense by State Farm and Culver. Specifically, the panel relied on rulings from the state’s top appellate courts in 1980, 1990 and 2003 that addressed the doctrine of equitable estoppel and, when applied to this instant case against State Farm and Culver, didn’t amount to any fraud or deceit in stopping the statutory timeline of the case.

The appellate court found that according to the documents in this case, when there’s a promise to settle or perform, any reliance on that promise by a claimant must be reasonable before equitable estoppel is available. The claim by Davis isn’t reasonable in rising to the level of stopping the statute of limitations defense, the judges determined.

Looking at rulings from federal appellate courts and state appellate courts in California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and South Carolina along with federal precedent on this issue, the Indiana Court of Appeals compared that caselaw with this state’s decisions and determined that a two-part test exists for determining whether equitable estoppel should apply. First, a court must determine whether the insurer has engaged in a promise to settle, discouraged the person from filing suit, discouraged the person from hiring an attorney, or other egregious conduct. If one of those factors exists, then the court must engage in the second part of the test and look at the totality of the circumstance surrounding the insurer’s actions.

In this claim by Davis, the appellate panel found that State Farm’s conduct wasn’t sufficient to trigger equitable estoppel because the insurer didn’t engage in any of those initial activities.

“State Farm’s only action at issue in this case was to tell Davis to contact them when she was done with her medical treatment,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “This conduct can hardly be considered egregious and should not have overridden Davis’s common sense that she needed to actively pursue her claim with State Farm.”

The appellate panel affirmed the lower court’s decision.
 

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  1. Welcome to Hendricks County where local and state statutes (especially Indiana Class C misdemeanors) are given a higher consideration than Federal statues and active duty military call-ups.

  2. If real money was spent on this study, what a shame. And if some air-head professor tries to use this to advance a career, pity the poor student. I am approaching a time that i (and others around me) should be vigilant. I don't think I'm anywhere near there yet, but seeing the subject I was looking forward to something I might use to look for some benchmarks. When finally finding my way to the hidden questionnaire all I could say to myself was...what a joke. Those are open and obvious signs of any impaired lawyer (or non-lawyer, for that matter), And if one needs a checklist to discern those tell-tale signs of impairment at any age, one shouldn't be practicing law. Another reason I don't regret dropping my ABA membership some number of years ago.

  3. The case should have been spiked. Give the kid a break. He can serve and maybe die for Uncle Sam and can't have a drink? Wow. And they won't even let him defend himself. What a gross lack of prosecutorial oversight and judgment. WOW

  4. I work with some older lawyers in the 70s, 80s, and they are sharp as tacks compared to the foggy minded, undisciplined, inexperienced, listless & aimless "youths" being churned out by the diploma mill law schools by the tens of thousands. A client is generally lucky to land a lawyer who has decided to stay in practice a long time. Young people shouldn't kid themselves. Experience is golden especially in something like law. When you start out as a new lawyer you are about as powerful as a babe in the cradle. Whereas the silver halo of age usually crowns someone who can strike like thunder.

  5. YES I WENT THROUGH THIS BEFORE IN A DIFFERENT SITUATION WITH MY YOUNGEST SON PEOPLE NEED TO LEAVE US ALONE WITH DCS IF WE ARE NOT HURTING OR NEGLECT OUR CHILDREN WHY ARE THEY EVEN CALLED OUT AND THE PEOPLE MAKING FALSE REPORTS NEED TO GO TO JAIL AND HAVE A CLASS D FELONY ON THERE RECORD TO SEE HOW IT FEELS. I WENT THREW ALOT WHEN HE WAS TAKEN WHAT ELSE DOES THESE SCHOOL WANT ME TO SERVE 25 YEARS TO LIFE ON LIES THERE TELLING OR EVEN LE SAME THING LIED TO THE COUNTY PROSECUTOR JUST SO I WOULD GET ARRESTED AND GET TIME HE THOUGHT AND IT TURNED OUT I DID WHAT I HAD TO DO NOT PROUD OF WHAT HAPPEN AND SHOULD KNOW ABOUT SEEKING MEDICAL ATTENTION FOR MY CHILD I AM DISABLED AND SICK OF GETTING TREATED BADLY HOW WOULD THEY LIKE IT IF I CALLED APS ON THEM FOR A CHANGE THEN THEY CAN COME AND ARREST THEM RIGHT OUT OF THE SCHOOL. NOW WE ARE HOMELESS AND THE CHILDREN ARE STAYING WITH A RELATIVE AND GUARDIAN AND THE SCHOOL WON'T LET THEM GO TO SCHOOL THERE BUT WANT THEM TO GO TO SCHOOL WHERE BULLYING IS ALLOWED REAL SMART THINKING ON A SCHOOL STAFF.

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