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Judge argues ruling puts form over substance

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The chief judge of the Indiana Court of Appeals dissented from his colleagues in an insurance dispute because he believes the decision leads to "an inequitable result."

Chief Judge John Baker wrote in his dissent that Judges Melissa May and Michael Barnes elevated form over substance when concluding that American Family Insurance wasn't entitled to a setoff to reduce jury verdicts by the amounts the insurer had previously paid as medical expense coverage for injuries Tamatha and Hannah Nealy suffered in a car accident. The Nealys won a default judgment of liability against the driver and the owner of the car that hit them; neither person had insurance, so American Family provided coverage under the Nealys' uninsured motorist and medical expense coverage.

The Nealys then sued American Family for the uninsured motorist coverage. The trial court granted American Family's motion for a setoff based on the amount of medical expenses it paid before trial.

In Tamatha M. Nealy, et al. v. American Family Mutual Insurance Co., No. 49A02-0812-CV-1096, the majority reversed the grant of the motion for setoff and remanded for the entry of judgment in the amount of the verdicts the jury originally returned. Judges May and Barnes ruled the trial court erred by basing the grant of the setoff on the advance payment statute, Indiana Code Section 34-44-2-3, because the payments the insurer made couldn't be characterized as "advance payments." American Family isn't the defendant's insurance company, as required by statute, and the statute doesn't apply when there is more than one defendant, wrote Judge May. There are three defendants in this action - the driver of the car that hit the Nealys, that car's owner, and American Family.

In addition, there's no language in the Nealys' policy to include setoffs for amounts paid under medical expense coverage to reduce the amount paid under the uninsured motorist coverage. The prior payments made by American Family were made under the medical expense provisions, not the uninsured motorist coverage, which does provide for a deduction of payments from the limits of liability. The majority also ruled the original jury verdict wouldn't give the Nealys a double recovery.

Chief Judge Baker believed the advance payment statute applies to this case. He also wrote that because there were multiple defendants and American Family was the plaintiffs' insurer, this decision "elevates form over substance to a degree that leads to an inequitable result." There were multiple defendants, but only American Family played any role in the litigation whatsoever, he wrote. Although American Family was the Nealys' insurer, it was litigating against them.

"I cannot believe that the legislature intended these facts to stand in the way of the application of the advance payment statute," he wrote. "Here, American Family has already paid over $10,000 for the Nealys' medical expenses; it is inequitable and unjust - and antithetical to the purpose of the advance payment statute - to ask the insurer to pay that amount a second time."

Chief Judge Baker also wrote the majority faulted American Family because it didn't say the "magic words" of "uninsured motorist coverage" when it paid the Nealys' medical expenses.

The chief judge did concur with the majority's resolution of the Nealys' additur argument, in which the majority affirmed the denial of their motion for additur.

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  1. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  2. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

  3. Linda, I sure hope you are not seeking a law license, for such eighteenth century sentiments could result in your denial in some jurisdictions minting attorneys for our tolerant and inclusive profession.

  4. Mazel Tov to the newlyweds. And to those bakers, photographers, printers, clerks, judges and others who will lose careers and social standing for not saluting the New World (Dis)Order, we can all direct our Two Minutes of Hate as Big Brother asks of us. Progress! Onward!

  5. My daughter was taken from my home at the end of June/2014. I said I would sign the safety plan but my husband would not. My husband said he would leave the house so my daughter could stay with me but the case worker said no her mind is made up she is taking my daughter. My daughter went to a friends and then the friend filed a restraining order which she was told by dcs if she did not then they would take my daughter away from her. The restraining order was not in effect until we were to go to court. Eventually it was dropped but for 2 months DCS refused to allow me to have any contact and was using the restraining order as the reason but it was not in effect. This was Dcs violating my rights. Please help me I don't have the money for an attorney. Can anyone take this case Pro Bono?

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