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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. He did not have an "unlicensed handgun" in his pocket. Firearms are not licensed in Indiana. He apparently possessed a handgun without a license to carry, but it's not the handgun that is licensed (or registered).

  2. Once again, Indiana's legislature proves how friendly it is to monopolies. This latest bill by Hershman demonstrates the lengths Indiana's representatives are willing to go to put big business's (especially utilities') interests above those of everyday working people. Maassal argues that if the technology (solar) is so good, it will be able to compete on its own. Too bad he doesn't feel the same way about the industries he represents. Instead, he wants to cut the small credit consumers get for using solar in order to "add a 'level of certainty'" to his industry. I haven't heard of or seen such a blatant money-grab by an industry since the days when our federal, state, and local governments were run by the railroad. Senator Hershman's constituents should remember this bill the next time he runs for office, and they should penalize him accordingly.

  3. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  4. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  5. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

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