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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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