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Hail creates firestorm for State Farm

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Indiana Lawyer Focus

What began with an April 2006 hailstorm materialized into the most intense and significant litigation experience Indianapolis attorney Will Riley has had during his career.

He doesn’t shy away from the excitement of the six-week trial and the new perspective that it has given him, but the most headline-grabbing element is the $14.5 million jury verdict he and his legal team won against State Farm Insurance.

hail-riley-0711-04-15col Attorney William Riley with Price Waicukauski & Riley led the legal team that secured a $14.5 million jury award against State Farm Insurance, resulting from its handling of the publicity surrounding the April 2006 hailstorm in Central Indiana. (IBJ Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

“This was the largest jury verdict I’ve ever had, and it was the most intense trial experience I’ve had to date,” said the Price Waicukauski & Riley partner who’s been practicing since 1989. “This almost feels like it should be a career capper, because of the desperate situation my client was in.”

This story begins with a hailstorm on Good Friday in 2006.

Tens of thousands of home and business owners filed insurance claims following the severe storm that produced golf-ball sized hail and significant damage. Illinois-based State Farm paid out more than $200

million in claims, but the insurance giant endured a public relations storm of its own when some homeowners claimed they were wrongfully denied.

Policyholders with three different State Farm insurance companies brought a class-action lawsuit in 2007 alleging breach of contract, bad-faith denial of benefits, and unjust enrichment. The homeowners sought damages and an injunction. U.S. Judge William Lawrence decertified that suit after the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal’s instruction, and now that case is being taken to the nation’s highest court for consideration.

New allegations

But this case involved claims State Farm made against Joseph Radcliff, owner of the multi-state roofing company Coastal Property Management, based on its operations in Indiana. State Farm paid out more than $1.75 million for covered claims from the storm, and in October 2008 the insurer sued on grounds that Radcliff’s company committed racketeering and fraud intentionally damaging roofs and simulating hail and wind damage. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office filed 14 felony charges against Radcliff, but those charges were later dismissed.

Radcliff countersued State Farm in March 2009, charging that the insurance company slandered and defamed him with its allegations. As a result of that negative publicity, Radcliff alleged that his personal and business reputations were destroyed in Indiana and nationally, and he had to close his roofing company.

Mark McKinzie of Riley Bennett & Egloff represented Radcliff as his personal attorney, and about a year ago he invited Riley and his law firm to get involved as a result of their handling the federal class-action suit involving State Farm’s hailstorm coverage. That experience provided a foundation for this countersuit, Riley says.

From the start, Riley observed that this case would be different because of the large number of depositions happening nationwide as a result of State Farm’s use of contract adjusters. The lawyers learned how little training those independent contractors had in surveying this type of damage.

The litigation strategy became clear for Riley and the legal team: Focus on the publicity campaign resulting from negative news coverage of State Farm’s denials.

“To vindicate themselves in the court of public opinion, they shifted to more of an aggressive strategy of accuse the accuser,” Riley said about State Farm’s accusations against Radcliff. “He cannot and could not escape from the negative publicity. That sort of sigma makes it impossible to get a job or even have a life.”

Even before the courtroom litigation started, Riley said the case was intense as questions arose in pre-trial motions and interactions about whether all the marketing material had been disclosed by State Farm. No one expected a settlement, he said, and from the start he described a fair degree of tension in the pre-trial motions practice.

“That’s not been typical of my experience,” he said.

The plaintiff’s attorneys had requested and the court ordered State Farm to turn over all documents related to its public relations following the hailstorm, but Riley said they learned the insurer hadn’t done that and filed a motion for sanctions. Hamilton Superior Judge Steven Nation allowed that issue to be argued during trial, and Riley said he didn’t know how much weight the jury gave those points in the context of the entire case.

With about 40 witnesses during a nearly six-week trial, the experience became more difficult as time progressed, with many live witnesses as well as video-taped testimony. Riley said one witness left on vacation, so they had to read his deposition into the record.

That made document management and coordination even more important for the legal team, Riley said.

“Every lawyer knows this, but what was driven home during this case was the absolute importance of having detailed knowledge of every document produced,” he said, referring to the 15,000 pages generated for use during the trial. “That was extraordinarily critical to our case. We lawyers tend to forget that documents can, in a way, make or break the ligation.”

Instant online access has made it more difficult to keep jurors interested and focused on the message during long and complex litigation, Riley said.

“We were in week five of the trial and had to be careful about juror fatigue when producing and using all these emails,” he said. “Our focus at that point was to only use what was absolutely necessary and wouldn’t overwhelm the jury. It’s just a herculean effort to get a jury for six weeks, let alone keep them engaged in the process. The fact that they remained attentive is phenomenal, and speaks very well of our American jury system.”

The verdict came down on June 29.

Riley recalls being edgy that afternoon – the jury had been deliberating since the previous afternoon. They sent questions out to the attorneys, and Riley says he was heartened at one point because it seemed they’d moved on to the damages question for his client.

“But you never know if that’s one juror or a representation of the whole group,” he said.

When the jury came back, he says he told an associate that it’s that type of waiting game that can take decades off an attorney’s life.

“I’ve never enjoyed the anticipation of it, right there in court before the verdict is read,” he said. “It seems to take forever as the juror knows, then the judge knows as he flips through the multi-page verdict form. Then he starts reading.”

The words began to blur after the juror’s findings of not guilty on the racketeering and insurance fraud allegations made by State Farm, and he heard what he thought was $14.1 million in damages, Riley said. He texted his wife, but then someone told him it was actually $14.5 million.

Though they’d asked for $30 million in damages, both Riley and McKinzie said they are pleased with the verdict and described it as a reasonable decision by jurors.

State Farm’s litigation department didn’t respond to Indiana Lawyer requests for interviews or whether an appeal may be filed, and attorneys representing the insurer declined to comment. Jan Campbell, listed as an attorney of record for State Farm on this case, said the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct prevented her from speaking even generally about the case.

Following the verdict, Riley’s firm issued a statement on behalf of Radcliff: “I am grateful to those who believed in me and helped me get the true facts before the jury and to the jury for giving me, and my failed company, justice.”•

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  • plaintiff entangled with State Farm
    I am due to tangle with State Farm in regards to my pool equipment being destroyed when a large limb from my neighbor's tree fell into my backyard. My neighbor refused to pay and so I brought suit in small claims court here in Arlington Tx. State Farm has replyed that the loss was a result of "act of God" as they are using Black's law dictionary. The truth is there was no weather system involved with the tree limb falling. In fact, there were no weather events at all during the 3 weeks before and including the date. I intend to bring up this case and others where State Farm was criminally charged with pressuring contract adjusters to falsify evidence to deny claims. No good neighbor here.
  • Supreme Court sides with Joe Radcliff
    THIS MATTER HAS COME BEFORE THE INDIANA SUPREME COURT ON A PETITION TO TRANSFER JURISDICTION FOLLOWING THE ISSUANCE OF A DECISION BY THE COURT OF APPEALS. THE PETITION WAS FILED PURSUANT TO APPELLATE RULE 57. THE COURT HAS REVIEWED THE DECISION OF THE COURT OF APPEALS. ANY RECORD ON APPEAL THAT WAS SUBMITTED HAS BEEN MADE AVAILABLE TO THE COURT FOR REVIEW, ALONG WITH ANY AND ALL BRIEFS THAT MAY HAVE BEEN FILED IN THE COURT OF APPEALS AND ALL THE MATERIALS FILED IN CONNECTION WITH THE REQUEST TO TRANSFER JURISDICTION. EACH PARTICIPATING MEMBER OF THE COURT HAS VOTED ON THE PETITION. EACH PARTICIPATING MEMBER HAS HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOICE THAT JUSTICE'S VIEWS ON THE CASE IN CONFERENCE WITH THE OTHER JUSTICES. BEING DULY ADVISED, THE COURT NOW DENIES THE APPELLANT'S PETITION TO TRANSFER OF JURISDICTION. BRENT E. DICKSON, CHIEF JUSTICE ALL JUSTICES CONCUR. (ORDER REC'D ON 10/10/13 @ 1:45 PM) ENTERED ON 10/11/13 AB
  • I was involved in this case
    I was one of the witnesses that testified in court on behalf of Joe Radcliff (on behalf of the truth, actually). I personally watched as State Farm came to my house and climbed on my roof for maybe 2-5 minutes and declared there was "no hail damage" even though you could see golf ball shaped dents on my roof from my front yard. Mr. Radcliff and the State Farm adjuster had a few words and then the adjuster left my house. Later that day I got a phone call from that adjuster telling me that if I would testify that Mr Radcliff's company (CPM) caused the damage to my roof that State Farm would replace my roof at no charge to me under a vandalism clause. Of course I refused this because it simply was not true. The same adjuster asked me if I saw Mr. Radcliff shove him at my house. I told him I saw the entire interaction with him and Mr. Radcliff and there was no shove. State Farm then refused my roof claim and proceeded to try to claim Mr. Radcliff was going around Indianapolis causing hail damage. I testified to this in court and was extremely happy that State Farm was found guilty of defamation and ordered to pay CPM Roofing $14.5 million dollars.
  • insurance fraud. its not what you think
    It's a story that you would read in a grisham book but, it was and still is my life story. During the 06 hail storm that hit the indy area there were thousands of property owners getting wrongly denied on their hail claims by state farm. When all other contractors would refuse to help there clients that had state farm and even in some cases in their marketing told clients if they had state farm not to call, I stood up and said " I will fight for you " and I did. I helped shine the light on state farm. I took clients into the department of insurance to meet with them and give the DOI the evidence they requested to show what state farm was doing. I fought and was victorious in many arbitration cases and never once did I shy away forom the biggest insurance carrier in the US. That is not my style.
    What did state farm do? Trump up fake charges and file a law suit against my company and myself one month after I was arrested. I beat the criminal charges and during the law suit we continued to show that state farm is "NOT A GOID NEIGHBOR ". They withheld evidence from the state, had engineering firms and their Adjusters change there reports and Lied about everything to protect their brand. They had no problem putting an innocent man ib jail for the rest of my life. Taking me away from my wife, 4 kids and costing over 300 people their jobs. For what so they could save money by denying claims and protecting the mark. What happened to our government that money will by political power so a super giant can do What ever they want with little to no penalty at all. The indy DOI did fine state farm 275,000.00 for their actions with the 06 hailstorm but so far that is it.
    one very interesting fact did come out in court. The only direct evidence of man made hail damages to a property was a state farm Adjuster who admitted to dime spinning a roof. Funny how I was accused of making the Damages state farm Adjusters did..
    I want to thank the jury for its time and listening to the facts and holding state farm accountable for the bad faith actions

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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