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Insurer not allowed to substitute party name

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An insurance company isn't allowed to substitute another party's name in a suit filed by a driver for her underinsured motorist benefits because there's no authority for substitution of a non-party before a jury in a contract case, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided today. Doing so would create a "legal fiction" before the jury.

In Marijeanne Brown-Day v. Allstate Insurance Co., No. 49A02-0903-CV-277, the Court of Appeals accepted Marijeanne Brown-Day's interlocutory appeal to review pretrial orders that granted Allstate Insurance's motion for party substitution and a motion in limine that collectively prohibited any explicit reference to Allstate.

Brown-Day was injured in an accident caused by Michelle Lobdell; Lobdell admitted fault and Brown-Day settled with Lobdell's insurer. Brown-Day then pursued a claim against her insurer, Allstate, for underinsured motorist benefits of $100,000. Lobdell was dismissed as a defendant from the suit with prejudice. The complaint was set for a jury trial.

Two years later, Allstate moved to substitute Lobdell as the sole defendant for trial to protect it from unfair prejudice should the jury know that underinsured motorist coverage was applicable to damages. The trial court granted that motion and another that prohibited Brown-Day from referring to the underinsured motorist claim, the Allstate policy, or the limits of the UIM coverage. It also excluded evidence of past dealings and payments Allstate made to its examiner/expert witness.

Allstate believed based on Indiana Evidence Rule 411 and Wineinger v. Ellis, 855 N.E.2d 614 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006), it could substitute another party to lessen prejudice in insurance cases.

"Evidence Rule 411 simply is not a mechanism providing for an outright substitution of parties so that the identity of a party as an insurer may be shielded. It does not contemplate the creation of a fiction to avoid possible prejudicial effects from a reference to insurance or an insurer," wrote Judge L. Mark Bailey.

Even if the appellate court assumed the prejudice could have been lessened if Lobdell remained a defendant, Allstate allowed her dismissal with prejudice instead of advancing payment and asserting a subrogation interest pursuant to Indiana Code Section 27-7-5-6.

And Allstate's reliance on Wineinger is misplaced because unlike that case, there is no other named defendant and that case was substantively a tort claim.

"Allstate wants the benefit of its bargain with Brown-Day, that is, the contractual limitation on Brown-Day's recovery. Neither Evidence Rule 411 nor Wineinger provides authority for substitution of a non-party in place of a party so as to create a legal fiction before the jury in a contract case," he wrote.

The Court of Appeals also found the trial court erred in not allowing Brown-Day to inquire about the payments Allstate made to its examiner/expert witness based on Evidence Rule 616. The source of witness income goes to the heart of bias or prejudice, and excluding evidence relevant to the jury's credibility assessment would operate as an invasion on the province of the jury, wrote Judge Bailey.

The case is remanded for further proceedings.

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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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