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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. 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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