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Justices take question on salvage statute

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The Indiana Supreme Court has accepted a certified question from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals about a statute on salvage titles that the federal court deemed ambiguous.

The high court accepted the certified question Jan. 21, which stems from the case Larry D. Storie v. Randy's Auto Sales, LLC, et al., No. 94S00-0912-CQ-559. The 7th Circuit sent the question: Whether an entity that purchases and later sells a wrecked vehicle is required to apply for a salvage title under Indiana Code Section 9-22-3-11(e) when it no longer owns the vehicle upon receipt of the certificate of title.

The issue arose when Larry Storie sued Randy's Auto Sales and St. Paul Mercury Insurance Co. in federal court after he found out a truck he purchased had been involved in a fatal accident. St. Paul Mercury Insurance Co., the insurer of the truck, applied for a title as proof of ownership but didn't apply for a salvage title. The truck was sold several times - including by Randy's in Indiana - before St. Paul finally received the title. Storie purchased the truck from a truck center in Missouri. When Randy's received the title from St. Paul, it forwarded it on to the purchaser of the truck, which made its way to Storie.

Storie sued because he believed Randy's violated I.C. Section 9-22-3-11(e), which says "Any other person acquiring a wrecked or damaged motor vehicle ... which acquisition is not evidenced by a certificate of salvage title, shall apply to the bureau within thirty-one (31) days after receipt of the certificate of title for a certificate of salvage title."

The District judge granted summary judgment for Randy's Auto Sales, but on appeal, the Circuit Court determined the statute in question is ambiguous and since there is no controlling Indiana precedent on the case, certified the question to the Indiana Supreme Court Dec. 17.

The justices noted in the order they would rely on the briefs and other documents already filed with or issued by the 7th Circuit but allowed the parties until Feb. 3 to file an additional brief in response to the appellate opinion.

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