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7th Circuit rejects lawsuit on insurer’s use of in-house counsel

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday agreed that a woman’s lawsuit against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. should be dismissed because state law creates no obligation for an insurer to provide advance notice to an insured that it uses in-house counsel to defend its policyholders.

Cindy Golden, who is insured by State Farm, brought her lawsuit after State Farm in-house attorney Patrick J. Murphy represented her in a lawsuit that was a result of an accident she was in. Her policy says that in the event of the accident, State Farm will pay “attorney fees for attorneys chosen by us to defend an insured who is sued” for damages.

Murphy sent Golden a letter telling her that he worked full time for State Farm. The lawsuit went to trial, and State Farm paid the nearly $4,000 judgment entered against Golden.

She filed her purported class action, claiming that State Farm had a duty to disclose at the time of the policy issuance the possibly that house counsel would be used in the event of a third-part lawsuit. She alleged breach of “special, confidential and fiduciary duties and common law duties to disclose,” breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and unjust enrichment.

Golden cited Cincinnati Insurance Co. v. Wills, 717 N.E.2d 151, 155-56 (Ind. 1999), saying the state’s justices acknowledged such a duty exists. But the case is not on point with hers, the 7th Circuit noted, as the insurance company in that suit used in-house counsel but made it seem like they were from an outside firm.

Current law does not require an insurer to disclose at the outset that its choice of counsel in the event a claim arises may be in-house counsel. The level of disclosure required is up to the insurance commissioner to decide, and the Indiana Department of Insurance has not chosen to require the type of notice that Golden requests, Judge Ilana Rovner wrote in Cindy Golden v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, 12-3901.

The judges also rejected Golden’s request that the court certify the question of policy disclosure to the Indiana Supreme Court.

“As our discussion of Wills should make clear, we are not ‘genuinely uncertain’ about whether an insurer is obligated to disclose, at the time of policy issuance, its practice of using house counsel to defend insureds,” she wrote. “Nor do we believe this case presents a ‘matter of vital public concern’ worthy of certification to the Indiana Supreme Court.”
 

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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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