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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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  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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