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Divided appeals court affirms summary judgment for community action program

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A divided Indiana Court of Appeals panel on Friday affirmed a Marion Superior Court ruling that dismissed a case against a government-funded agency because the victims in a vehicle accident failed to provide notice under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

John Schoettmer was driving his vehicle when he was in an accident with a vehicle that was being driven by Jolene C. Wright, who worked at South Central Community Action Program. Schoettmer was injured and sued after rejecting a $12,868 settlement offer from the agency to cover his medical expenses.

In John W. Schoettmer and Karen Schoettmer v. Jolene C. Wright and South Central Community Action Program, Inc., 49A04-1108-CT-406, Judge Melissa May wrote that the Schoettmers acknowledged that they didn’t provide notice to the agency as required in litigation against government agencies or political subdivisions that receive taxpayer funding.

“Instead, they assert their communications with South Central’s liability insurer, Cincinnati Insurance, substantially complied with the ITCA notice provisions. We disagree,” May wrote.  

“The trial court did not err when it granted Appellees’ motion for summary judgment. Schoettmers did not timely file their ITCA notice, nor may they find refuge from their failure in the theories of substantial compliance, waiver, and estoppel. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court,” May wrote in an opinion joined by Judge Elaine Brown.

Judge Terry Crone dissented and wrote that Schoettmer worked with the insurer after the accident in December 2008 until the settlement offer was made in September 2009. More than a year later, the Schoettmers sued, but the insurer did not assert a defense under provisions of ITCA until amending their response to the suit more than 60 days after the initial response.

“I would not hold the Schoettmers’ counsel to a higher standard of due diligence regarding discovery of South Central’s governmental status than I would South Central’s own counsel,” Crone wrote in a dissent in which he said he would reverse summary judgment in favor of South Central and stop South Central from asserting the Schoettmers’ noncompliance with the notice provisions of the ITCA as a bar to their claims.

“Cincinnati Insurance’s behavior was misleading and John’s complete ignorance regarding South Central’s governmental status was reasonable,” Crone wrote.

 

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