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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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