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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. Paul Ogden doing a fine job of remembering his peer Gary Welsh with the post below and a call for an Indy gettogether to celebrate Gary .... http://www.ogdenonpolitics.com/2016/05/indiana-loses-citizen-journalist-giant.html Castaways of Indiana, unite!

  2. It's unfortunate that someone has attempted to hijack the comments to promote his own business. This is not an article discussing the means of preserving the record; no matter how it's accomplished, ethics and impartiality are paramount concerns. When a party to litigation contracts directly with a reporting firm, it creates, at the very least, the appearance of a conflict of interest. Court reporters, attorneys and judges are officers of the court and must abide by court rules as well as state and federal laws. Parties to litigation have no such ethical responsibilities. Would we accept insurance companies contracting with judges? This practice effectively shifts costs to the party who can least afford it while reducing costs for the party with the most resources. The success of our justice system depends on equal access for all, not just for those who have the deepest pockets.

  3. As a licensed court reporter in California, I have to say that I'm sure that at some point we will be replaced by speech recognition. However, from what I've seen of it so far, it's a lot farther away than three years. It doesn't sound like Mr. Hubbard has ever sat in a courtroom or a deposition room where testimony is being given. Not all procedures are the same, and often they become quite heated with the ends of question and beginning of answers overlapping. The human mind can discern the words to a certain extent in those cases, but I doubt very much that a computer can yet. There is also the issue of very heavy accents and mumbling. People speak very fast nowadays, and in order to do that, they generally slur everything together, they drop or swallow words like "the" and "and." Voice recognition might be able to produce some form of a transcript, but I'd be very surprised if it produces an accurate or verbatim transcript, as is required in the legal world.

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