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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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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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