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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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