Citing the reasoning in a dissenting opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled an injured driver can present his argument of why he should be allowed to file a lawsuit against a government entity even though the time limit has expired.
John Schoettmer was injured on Nov. 24, 2008, after he was involved in vehicular accident with Jolene Wright, who was working for South Central Community Action Program Inc. He underwent a series of medical treatments and filed all the paperwork needed to settle his claim with Cincinnati Insurance Co., South Central’s liability insurer.
Schoettmer declined a settlement offer and eventually sued Wright and South Central for personal injury damages.
In an amended complaint, South Central asserted that as a political subdivision governed by the Indiana Tort Claims Act, it could not be sued by Schoettmer and wife Karen because the plaintiffs had not provided a notice of their claim within ITCA’s 180-day deadline.
The trial court granted summary judgment in South Central’s favor and a split Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. However, Judge Terry Crone dissented, arguing South Central should be estopped from asserting the Schoettmers’ noncompliance with the ITCA.
Like Judge Crone, the Supreme Court agreed with the Schoettmers’ argument that equitable estoppel should prevent South Central from using the ITCA time limit as a defense. The Schoettmers were not aware the agency was a government entity covered by the act.
In John W. Schoettmer & Karen Schoettmer v. Jolene C. Wright & South Central Community Action Program Inc., 49S04-1210-CT-607, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants and remanded for further proceedings consistent with the court’s opinion.
Writing for the court, Judge Mark Massa pointed out that Schoettmer failed to act because of his reliance on the insurer’s instructions.
The insurance agent told him repeatedly to wait until all his medical treatments were complete before settling his claim. He provided a recorded statement and access to his medical records and bills by April 22, 2009. However, Cincinnati Insurance did not issue a settlement offer until Aug. 20, 2009, nearly three months after the 180-day time limit had expired.
“Thus,” Massa wrote, “we are included to agree with Judge Crone that ‘the designated evidence reveals that genuine issues of material fact remain, and the Schoettmers should be allowed to present proof of estoppel to the trial court.’”