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Justices rule on lawyer liablity coverage case

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Questions exist as to whether the professional liability coverage carrier for a disbarred attorney misled two former clients about helping them collect on legal malpractice claims. In a ruling on Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case of Michael Ashby and Randy O’Brien v. The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company and C. Bruce Davidson, Jr., No. 49S04-1011-CV-635, for further proceedings.

The case involves ex-Indianapolis lawyer, Clifton Bruce Davidson Jr., a former police officer-turned-attorney who deserted his law practice in 2003 and went on a multi-state bank robbing spree before eventually ending up in federal prison and being disbarred by the Indiana Supreme Court in August 2004. The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company issued a policy to Davidson in 2003 without being informed of any existing issues, such as malpractice allegations by two prisoner clients, Michael Ashby and Randy O’Brien, who Davidson represented prior to leaving his practice.

The clients tried to collect through the insurance carrier, but the Bar Plan refused to indemnify Davidson because he hadn’t complied with the contract requirements. Under the policy secured before he abandoned his practice, Davidson was supposed to provide written notice of any claim. In this case, he was running from the law during the relevant time period and did not do that. Instead, Ashby and O’Brien notified the Bar Plan of their claims. The insurer argued that was not sufficient to meet the policy requirements.

Marion Superior Judge Robyn Moberly granted summary judgment for the Bar Plan, but the Indiana Court of Appeals last summer reversed that judgment and remanded for trial proceedings on grounds that the clients’ actual notice was sufficient. The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer in November, and the justices have unanimously found enough issues exist for further proceedings.

On the question of coverage, the justices held the Bar Plan has established no genuine issues of fact exist about Davidson’s failure to comply with the policy condition requiring personal notification of a claim; he didn’t and that’s clear, the justices determined. But that isn’t dispositive because Ashby and O’Brien also argued against summary judgment on grounds of waiver and estoppel.

Written communications between the clients and the Bar Plan don’t make it clear the insurer wasn’t implying coverage, the court determined.

“Conspicuously absent was any caution about possible non-coverage due to the absence of written notice from Davidson, the insured,” Justice Brent Dickson wrote. “From the designated materials, we find genuine issues of fact as to whether Ashby and O’Brien, and their counsel, were misled to believe that the Bar Plan provided professional liability coverage for Davidson with respect to their claims.”

As a result of that, it’s unclear at this point whether Ashby and O’Brien might have detrimentally relied on that belief and that is something that should be examined at the trial level, the justices found.
 

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  1. 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.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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