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Law firm pays $50,000, ending $18M nightmare

January 1, 2008
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An Indianapolis law firm has paid $50,000 to the Indiana Department of Insurance in a deal that extricates it from an $18 million jury verdict stemming from the collapse of a health insurance trust.

The department released Fillenwarth Dennerline Groth & Towe from the massive judgment that a Marion County jury handed down against the law firm two years ago. In return, the firm transferred to the department the bad-faith claims it is pursuing against its malpractice insurer, Alabama-based ProNational Insurance Co.

That's where the real money is, said Doug Webber, chief legal counsel for the department.

"It is our view that the law firm had limited assets," and even those would be difficult to get at if the firm sought bankruptcy court protection, Webber said.

In addition, he said he believes the law firm's bad-faith claims are strong. Fillenwarth Dennerline was hit with the judgment only after the insurer refused the department's offer to settle for a mere $1 million - the maximum amount of the firm's insurance coverage.

The legal tangle stems from the 2002 collapse of the Indiana Construction Industry Trust, which provided health coverage to non-union construction workers. The jury found that Fillenwarth Dennerline partner Frederick Dennerline III, who served as outside counsel for the trust, failed to notify trustees of its growing financial problems. The verdict equaled the amount of unpaid claims due 8,200 Hoosiers after the trust went bust.

Those insurance customers have collected nearly $4 million from other parties that previously settled. Any additional sums the department collects on the bad-faith claims would go to those customers, after attorneys' fees are paid. As a result of the agreement with Fillenwarth Dennerline, "We have a much better chance to recover the amounts necessary to make these 8,200 people whole," Webber said.

Joseph Chapelle, an attorney for ProNational, could not be reached. The insurer previously has denied acting improperly.
Check out the July 9 - July 22, 2008, edition of Indiana Lawyer or the Indiana Lawyer Web site Wednesday for more information about this suit.
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