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Innocent co-insureds looking for protection

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Advocates in Indiana fighting for “innocent co-insured” protections say they will continue to ask the Legislature to create a new law.

Kerry Hyatt Blomquist, legal director for the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said the problem of innocent co-insureds being denied coverage happens every day. However, the denials are seldom challenged because oftentimes the victims are “so used to being held down that sometimes they are not very good at sticking up for themselves.”

The term “innocent co-insured” refers to individuals who had nothing to do with an intentional act that caused a loss. Yet they are refused payment because they hold the insurance policy jointly with the person who is responsible for the damage.

crider-michael.jpg Crider

A complaint filed in May 2013 was thought to be a lawsuit that would set precedent in favor of the innocent co-insured. That case was settled, and another dispute involving an innocent co-insured indicated the courts were likely to find for the insurance companies.

Consequently, those championing the innocent co-insured issue have decided to try a legislative approach. One attempt has already failed in the Indiana General Assembly, but they say they’ll be back.

A bill introduced by Sen. Michael Crider during the 2013 session would have added a new section to state law prohibiting denial of coverage to an innocent co-insured. The measure did not get a hearing in committee. But Crider, R-Greenfield, is optimistic the Legislature will eventually act.

Advocates thought Womack v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Company, et al., 3:13-CV-00495, might be the case that would set precedent.

The plaintiff, Gwendolen Womack of LaPorte County, lost her home to a fire set by her estranged husband. Her insurance provider refused to cover the damages because, the insurance company said, the fire was an intentional act by one of the insured parties and the policy expressly did not cover intentional acts.

To the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Womack was an innocent co-insured. Blomquist was able to enlist Angela Krahulik, partner at Ice Miller LLP, to take the case pro bono.

Krahulik and her colleagues, Elizabeth Timme and Sarah Murray, filed the complaint in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The case was settled in January 2014 with the terms remaining confidential.

Allstate declined to comment about the Womack settlement or on its policy, in general, regarding innocent co-insureds.

Krahulik said she and her client feel very fortunate to have settled because another innocent co-insured lost his lawsuit in court. In Deeter v. Indiana Farmers Mutual Insurance Company, 43A04-1305-PL-229, the Indiana Court of Appeals in December affirmed summary judgment for the insurance company based on a plain reading of the insurance contract.

A petition to transfer the Deeter case is pending before the Indiana Supreme Court.

The decision, Krahulik said, indicates the innocent co-insured issue will likely have little traction in the courts. Blomquist says the Deeter case has key differences from Womack’s situation but the coalition is still turning to a legislative approach.

“We actually did think we could find the remedy from the courts,” Blomquist said.

Crider was not working with the coalition when he introduced his innocent co-insured legislation, Senate Bill 170. The former police officer authored the measure after a friend destroyed his ex-wife’s home as part of his suicide and the insurance company refused coverage, which left the ex-wife and children struggling.

“I’m big on fairness,” Crider said. “This just does not feel right to me.”

Provisions in Crider’s bill would have prohibited property and casualty insurers from denying or limiting payment on a claim from an innocent co-insured. Also, insurers could not refuse to issue or renew a policy with an innocent co-insured.

In addition, the bill allowed for stiff penalties – a fine between $25,000 and $50,000 for each act and a revocation of license – for insurance providers who were found to have engaged in unfair and deceptive acts.

When he introduced the bill, Crider said he encountered many people who were interested in the issue which leads him to believe, like Blomquist, that denials to innocent co-insureds are more common than many realize.

The Legislature, Crider said, will have to be educated on the issue, so getting a bill passed may take several tries.

“The cause needs to be addressed,” he said. “If there is somebody else who is a better champion of this issue, I am willing to step aside to get it done.”•

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  1. 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)

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