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Insurer needs notice of claim to defend it

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An insurer can't defend a claim of which it has no knowledge and its duty to defend doesn't begin until it receives basic notice information to allow it to defend a claim, ruled the Indiana Supreme Court. The high court affirmed today summary judgment in favor of an insurer on the question of when its duty to defend began in an environmental claim filed by a policy holder because the duty to defend didn't begin until the policy holder complied with the policy's notice requirement.

The question in Dreaded Inc. v. St. Paul Guardian Insurance Co., et al., No. 49S02-0805-CV-244, is whether St. Paul Guardian Insurance was liable for environmental damage claims against Dreaded Inc. that it was unaware of for more than three years. Dreaded received notice from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management requiring it to investigate contamination at a former business site. Dreaded notified St. Paul of the IDEM claim 3 ½ years later and asked St. Paul to take up its defense and reimburse the company for defense costs incurred up to that point. St. Paul agreed to defend Dreaded beginning at the point it received notice, but not for the 3 ½ years prior to receiving notice. Dreaded filed suit seeking declaratory relief establishing St. Paul's duty to fully defend and indemnify against the IDEM action and damages from the breach of contract of St. Paul's duty to defend. St. Paul countered it required prompt notice of damage claims and it wasn't liable for payments made without its consent. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of St. Paul.

Dreaded argued on appeal it's entitled to recover its pre-notice defense costs unless St. Paul can prove it was prejudiced by the company's late notice and St. Paul failed to present evidence showing actual prejudice. However, the facts of this case will result in the same outcome regardless of whether St. Paul has to show it was prejudiced, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. Dreaded's claim for damages is predicated solely on its contention St. Paul breached its duty to defend them against a claim or suit for injury or damage covered by their policy.

But an insurer can't defend a claim if it doesn't know about, and until it receives the basic information needed to allow it to defend a claim, the insurer can't be held accountable for breaching this duty, wrote the justice. St. Paul's duty to defend didn't arise until Dreaded complied with the policy's notice requirement, so the insurer is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law.

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  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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