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Justices rule on underinsured motorist coverage case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has held that a tortfeasor’s vehicle was underinsured according to state statute because the benefit amount actually paid to a woman was less than the per-person limit of liability of the underinsurance endorsement of an insurance policy that applied to all the family members involved in the accident.

In Hannah Lakes v. Grange Mutual Casualty Company, No. 89S05-1109-CT-531, the justices unanimously agreed with the result the Indiana Court of Appeals reached, but for a different reason.

The case involves a severe auto accident in 2004 where Hannah Lakes and several family members were injured. The tortfeasor, James Isaacs, had an insurance policy that limited bodily injury liability to $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Lakes’ sister, Anitra, was driving and had an insurance policy with underinsured motorist coverage for $50,000 per person and per accident. Their father, Jerry Lakes, also had UIM coverage for $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.

After the Lakeses filed a state suit against Isaacs and Anitra Lakes’ carrier, Grange Mutual Casualty Company, Isaacs’ carrier paid its limit but Grange filed for summary judgment on the basis that the tortfeasor’s vehicle was not an underinsured vehicle as a matter of law because the per-accident limit of his policy was equal to the UIM per-accident limit of Anitra’s policy. The trial court granted Grange’s summary judgment motion, holding that Jerry Lakes’ $50,000 policy limit was equal to the UIM limit Anita Lakes had in her policy and that it didn’t matter that more than one family member was receiving benefits. The trial court also held Hannah Lakes couldn’t recover under her father’s insurance because that policy excluded coverage for property damage or bodily injury for family members inside the vehicle.

The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the tortfeasor’s vehicle was underinsured and that Hannah was entitled to recover up to $44,900 in UIM benefits under Anitra’s policy. The justices agreed, although for a different reason. They reaffirmed the decision from a decade ago in Corr v. American Family Insurance, 767 N.E.2d 535 (Ind. 2002).

The Supreme Court agreed with Grange and the trial court that the regime established by the intermediate appellate court may encourage “collusion” among insureds to structure their relationships in order to trigger Corr. But the justices disagreed with the proposed “fix” to that issue, adopting a different standard from another line of precedent.

Justice Frank Sullivan wrote for the court that when there are multiple claimants on these types of cases, courts should examine each claim individually and compare each with the per-person limits of applicable UIM coverage. The per-accident limits have no bearing on whether a vehicle is underinsured, Sullivan wrote, and the per-accident limits come into play only to limit the insurer’s liability.

The trial court judgment is reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

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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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