ILNews

Court rules on underinsured motorists coverage

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today on when injured claimants in an automobile accident can seek to recover more money under a single Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist policy.

In Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. David Eakle, et al., the court used previous cases Allstate Ins Co v. Sanders 644 N.E.2d 884, 887 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) and Grange Ins. Co v. Graham 843 N.E.2d 597, 599 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006) to determine the trial court erred in denying Auto-Owners judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment and ruling that the Eakles receive summary judgment.

In 2003, David Eakle and his parents, Helen and Leon, were seriously injured in an automobile accident when Lavern Weddel failed to stop at a red light in Indianapolis. Weddel died as a result of the accident. The Eakles, along with David's wife, Melissa, filed a claim with Weddel's insurer, Indiana Insurance Co. and received the accident policy limit of $500,000. Helen received $245,000, Leon received $160,000; David received $90,000, and Melissa was awarded $5,000.

The Eakles' vehicle was insured through Auto-Owners, which provided uninsured and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage of $500,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. The Eakles filed a claim with Auto-Owners for coverage payments under their UIM endorsement of the policy, which Auto-Owners denied, saying Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured.

The Eakles then brought a lawsuit against Auto-Owners for breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment that they were entitled to the compensation under the UIM claims with their insurance policy. The trial court ruled in favor of the Eakles.

The Court of Appeals examines the core issue of the case - whether Weddel's vehicle was underinsured. Auto-Owners wants the court to compare the per accident limit of Weddel's bodily injury liability policy, which was $500,000, to the per accident limit of the Eakles' UIM policy, which is also $500,000. The Eakles argue the court should compare the per person limit of each Eakle's UIM coverage, which is $500,000, to the amount actually available for payment to each Eakle under the agreement with Weddel's insurer, which does not total $500,000 for each injured party.

The opinion, authored by Judge Darden with Judges Sharpnack and Robb concurring, finds that Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured, using Graham and Sanders as guides because those cases also involved multiple injured claimants seeking to recover under a single UIM policy.

Darden wrote, "The designated evidence demonstrates that the amount of $500,000 paid to the Eakles by tortfeasor-Weddel's insurance was not less than, but equivalent to the UIM limits available to the Eakles for a multiple person accident in the amount of $500,000.00 under their Auto-Owners policy."

The court found that Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured and that the trial court erred in denying Auto-Owners' motion for judgment on the pleadings and its alternative motion for summary judgment. The COA reversed the trial court's decision and remanded with instruction that the trial court grant summary judgment in favor of Auto-Owners.
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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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