ILNews

Justices rule on lawyer liablity coverage case

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

ADVERTISEMENT