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Split opinion: Disclosure of insurance policy limit is reversible error

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Ruling on an issue of first impression, a divided panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals on Friday rejected a jury’s award of $250,000 to the widow of a motorcyclist injured in a crash. The majority remanded for a new trial, holding that disclosure of uninsured motorist policy limits was irrelevant and prejudiced the jury.

The majority’s holding in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Kimberly S. Earl and The Estate of Jerry Earl, 36A05-1212-CT-635, would align Indiana with other states such as Florida and Nebraska in which courts have ruled that disclosure of policy limits may be reversible error.

A Jackson Circuit jury awarded Jerry Earl $250,000 under his uninsured motorist coverage after he was run off the road by a tractor-trailer on Interstate 65. Both parties stipulated Earl was not at fault in the 2008 crash in which the trucker, apparently unaware of the crash, did not stop and was never identified. Earl since died from an unrelated cause.

“State Farm argues that the trial court erred when it allowed into evidence at a jury trial the $250,000 bodily injury limit provision contained in the Earls’ (uninsured motorist) insurance policy. State Farm contends that evidence of the bodily injury limit was both irrelevant and prejudicial. Determining that evidence of the bodily injury limit was in fact both irrelevant and prejudicial, we reverse and remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” Judge John Baker wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented.

"State Farm asserts, and the majority agrees, that the amount of the verdict — which was exactly the maximum under the UM coverage — suggests that the jury was influenced by the evidence of the coverage limit,” Riley wrote. “However, the majority disregards the substantial amount of evidence reflecting Jerry’s extreme pain in the weeks after the wreck and the physical pain, mental suffering, and limitations he continued to suffer because of his injuries until his death.

"Prejudicial error is not established merely because the jury awarded the UM policy limit; rather, the more appropriate inference is that the jury followed the trial court’s instructions and, in light of the overwhelming evidence, arrived at the policy limit. I would affirm the trial court."    

 

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  1. Just an aside, but regardless of the outcome, I 'm proud of Judge William Hughes. He was the original magistrate on the Home place issue. He ruled for Home Place, and was primaried by Brainard for it. Their tool Poindexter failed to unseat Hughes, who won support for his honesty and courage throughout the county, and he was reelected Judge of Hamilton County's Superior Court. You can still stand for something and survive. Thanks, Judge Hughes!

  2. CCHP's real accomplishment is the 2015 law signed by Gov Pence that basically outlaws any annexation that is forced where a 65% majority of landowners in the affected area disagree. Regardless of whether HP wins or loses, the citizens of Indiana will not have another fiasco like this. The law Gov Pence signed is a direct result of this malgovernance.

  3. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  4. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  5. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

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