Judges affirm attorney fees from State Farm’s ‘groundless’ lawsuit

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A car dealership accused of playing a role in a car fire that destroyed four cars and part of a man’s home is entitled to the more than $12,000 in attorney fees awarded to it after State Farm’s negligence lawsuit was dismissed. The Indiana Court of Appeals noted the insurer’s refusal to dismiss the claim despite knowing the dealership was not at fault for the fire.

Kenneth Burkhart, insured through State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., filed a claim with State Farm after his 2006 GMC truck caught fire while parked in his garage. The fire engulfed the garage, the truck and three other cars, and a portion of his house. Burkhart said the last people to enter the engine compartment were employees of H.H. Niswander. The dealership had performed an oil change on his truck about a week before the fire.

State Farm instituted an investigation and Timothy Herndon and Walter Herndon, of Herndon & Associates, determined the fire was a result of oil leaking from the engine and into the ignition. It was classified as an accidental fire. The report was concluded ten months before State Farm filed its complaint.

During a deposition of State Farm’s experts, Timothy Herndon explained that he believed the oil change had nothing to do with the fire and it was due to a manufacturing defect. State Farm refused to dismiss the case. The dealership filed a motion to dismiss and sought sanctions and fees. The trial court dismissed it with prejudice and ordered State Farm to pay $12,503.39 in attorney fees incurred by H.H. Niswander, noting that State Farm knew prior to filing the suit that the dealership did not cause the fire.

In State Farm Fire & Casualty Company a/s/o Kenneth Burkhart v. H.H. Niswander, 35A02-1307-CT-638, State Farm appealed the order to pay attorney fees. But the Court of Appeals affirmed, finding State Farm’s lawsuit was groundless.

“Based on our standard of review, we cannot find with a definite and firm conviction that the trial court made a mistake in determining that State Farm pursued the lawsuit against H.H. Niswander without evidence that H.H. Niswander was negligent or caused the fire,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.


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  1. What Mr. Bir is paying is actually Undifferentiated Family Support, which is a mixture of child support and spousal maintenance. If the courts had labeled accurately labeled the transfer payment, I think that Mr. Bir would have fewer objections to paying it because both Spousal Maintenance and Undifferentiated Family Support are tax deductions for the paying party and taxable to the receiving party. I brought this issue up with my family court judge when my voluntarily unemployed ex-wife was using the 'child support' transfer payment to support both herself and out children. Said family court judge stated that I did not know what I was talking about because I did not have a Juris Doctorate, despite my having a printout with dictionary definitions of the legal terms that I was using for documentation.

  2. Lori, you must really love wedding cake stories like this one ... happy enuf ending for you?

  3. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  4. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  5. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?