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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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  • 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. Louis D. Brandeis was born in 1856. At 9 years of age it would have been 1865. The Brandeis family did not own slaves. My source Louis D. Brandeis: A Life, by Melvin L. Urofsky.

  2. My name is Matthew Lucas Major, I recently went through a jury trial in Bloomington , In. It was the week of Feb 19-21. Although I have been incarcerated since August 5, 2014. The reason I 'am writing to you sir is on the 21 of February the jury came in with a very excessive and wrongful verdict of guilty on 6 child molesting charges against my daughter who was 9 at the time I was accused. I also had 2 other Felonies one of Intimidation and 1 of Sexual Vicarious Gratification. Judge Marc Kellam on the second day of trial gave me a not guilty on those 2 felonies. The jury was sent out during that time and when brought back Judge Kellam told them to not concern themselves with the 2 Felonies that he ruled on them. They were told to not let evidence they had already heard influence there verdicts. I never in my life touched any child sexually and definitely not with my own daughter. When I was arrested Detective Shawn Karr told me I would be convicted guilty just on my daughters word even without evidence. That's just what happened. my public defender did me so wrong he never once proved to the court and jury all the lies the child told, and Jeremy Noel my public defender could of proven the lies easily. The stories in Serenity's depositions and Forensic interview changed and were not consistent as Prosecutor Darcie Fawcett claimed they were. Yet my attorney never mentioned that. The facts that the child accused me of full penetration in her vagina and rectum was proven lies. Doctor Roberta Hibbard of Riley hospital in Indianapolis confirmed Serenity's hymen intact, no scars, no tearing, no signs of rape to her. Yet my attorney didn't use that knowledge . the DNA was all in my favor. I tell you I will spend my entire life in prison going through rape and beatings etc. even Judge Kellam abused his authority by telling the jurors to listen and believe what the prosecutors side in evidence like my daughters testimony. In one interview with the detectives my daughter got flustered with her mom and said on camera " I'm saying what you told me to mom"!! Yet Mr. Noel said nor did anything to even resemble a defense attorney. Judge Kellam allowed edited version of a taped conversation between the child and her mother. Also Judge Kellam allowed the Prosecutor too bring in to my case a knife found under my seat, the knife wasn't part of my case. She was allowed by my attorney and the judge to put a huge picture of it on the screen and huge picture of my naked privates in a full courtroom and open court. Ms. Fawcett says to jury see how easy Mr. Major could reach the knife and cut his Childs throat. Even though I had no weapons charge against these cases. This gave the jurors prejudice thought against me thinking I threatened her with that knife and how scared she would of been knowing i could get it and kill her. On my sentencing court March 19, 2014 my public defender told Judge Kellam he wish to resign from being my attorney and wished for the court to give me outside council to file a error to trial or appeal. We were denied. Now after openly knowing my public defender don't want to represent me he has to. Well when as parents we make our kids clean a room when they really don't wish to, well the child will but don't mean she will do a good job, that's where I'm at with Mr. Noel. please dont ignore mine and my families pleas for your help . we have all the legal proof you could need to prove Im innocent. Please dont make my spend years in prison innocent when you can fix this wrong. Im not saying Im a perfect man or that I was a perfect dad to my 2 children none of us are. Ive made some bad choices in life and I paid for them. But I didnt ever touch or rape my daughter . I love my children with all my heart. And now through needing attention and a ex-wife who told my granny several times she wish she could put me in prison to get me out of their lives. Well my ex finally accomplished her goal. Sad part is she is destroying our daughter with all this horrific lies and things she taught my daughter to say. My daughter will need therapist to ever hope for a chance of a normal life after what she had done to her by her mom and their side of the family. My daughter told everyone even on stand she had a dream months before i supposedly molested her in this dream I was molesting her and when I finally did it matched her dream perfectly. She admitted to watching movies about little girls being molested and watching U-Tube videos about child molesting all before it happened supposedly to her. Doesn't that sound very unusual that a non molested 9 yr old would need to know so much about being molested? The only reason I could think a 9 year old would need so much information is to be prepared to know what to say and be able to say how it felt what took place etc.. So when questioned by authorities she would be prepared. And there again sir if a parent is pre grooming a 9 year old child she would need intimate details . Like telling her daughter about a couple moles on my private area. The child admitted to sneaking my cell and looking many many times at nudes of me and my girlfriend even one where my penis was entering my girlfriends vagina. In that picture my moles are obvious. Yet when prosecutor showed everyone in court my privates and pictures of the moles she said the only way the child would know about them is if she saw them for herself. My attorney once again said nothing about the pictures my child saw. Or could a ex-wife be able to describe my moles to help her case against getting rid of me? I beg you help me. This is my very existence. Ive lost everything , a good job, a wonderful girlfriend, my freedom, but worse thing Ive lost is my children. They were my reason to get up every morning and strive to be better. The wonderful bond I had with my Serenity is gone. After this I would be afraid to even hug her for fear of what next can they do to me. I'm not afraid to tell you I sit here in this cell and try to hold back my tears. Everyone knows you cant show weakness in prison. My life has already been threatened here at Wabash Valley Prison. After only 3 days of arrival. I was tricked into signing a waiver now Im in G Block General Population with 6 child molesting felony charges. Mrs. Hart as a 18 year old I almost died hooked to machines in hospital almost 1 month and now I know that fear was childish compared to this . I cant help but put emotions in this, after all Mrs. Hart Im human and God help Me I never been more afraid in my life. I didnt hurt my little girl I didnt touch her sexually. As much as it shreds me and fills my mind what Im facing I worry more about my mom and granny because of their great love for me mam they are suffering so deeply. I aint done this things but my loved ones suffering right along beside me and If you take my case you will be in essence freeing them also. I sent momma this letter and asked her to email it to you. I'm scared I have been done so unjustly by our legal system and I need you to fix this and give me freedom. I ask you please don't just ignore my pleas. Here in America its nice to be able to trust our legal justice system, well they destroyed my and my loved ones trust in our justice system . And I'm trusting in You !!! My entire family is suffering this nightmare with me. My 77 year old granny had a stroke and isn't doing so well. My single mother that raised 3 kids alone is dying from Lupus and since my arrest has stayed so sick and weary. Our lives torn to peices by a government I was taught I could trust in. my momma has tried so many innocent project and wrongfully accused and cant get anywhere. please please help me. A quote from the late Nelson Mandela: To be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, But to live in a way that respects and enhances The Freedom Of Others. I have Faith in you and your clinic to cast my chains off and give me freedom I do deserve as a wrongfully accused Man, son, brother, father, friend. Matthew Major DOC# 246179 Cause # : 53c02-1308-FA-000779 God Bless you. Please contact me with your decision so I know you made a life changing decision for me , just please at least write me so I know you care enough about your citizens to respond to cries for your help. You can speak openly with my mother Charlotte Spain (828) 476-0406: 71 Lakeview Dr. Canton, NC 28716 Thank You Matthew Major I know yall get thousands of request and inmates claiming innocence, and each person who are innocent deserve to have organizations like yours willing to fight for them and I give yall so much Thanks and I thank God everyday yall are out there caring enough to help free the innocents. Since discovering firsthand how easily lives and families can be destroyed by Poor Defense attorneys not doing their job . And Prosecutors allowed to do as they please in court

  3. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  4. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  5. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

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