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COA rules for insurer in 2011 truck crash that killed 3

July 25, 2018

An insurance company owes no common law or assumed duty to parties injured or killed in a crash caused by a truck driver who knowingly operated a vehicle with faulty brakes, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

The panel reversed the Jennings Circuit Court’s denial of summary judgment for Old National Insurance and its representative, Joseph E. Kenworthy, in a lawsuit brought by the estates of victims of a truck crash more than seven years ago.

According to the record, a C&K Transport Inc. truck driver stopped at a weigh station in Ohio in February 2011, where he discovered the vehicle was overweight and its brakes weren’t working. He called C&K owner William Hackney, who told the driver to drive the truck to Mitchell, Indiana, on a route that did not have weigh stations. The driver refused, and Hackney drove the truck on the route himself without first making any repairs.

That night, Hackney’s truck struck a vehicle driven by Edward Megel on U.S. 50, in which his wife, JoAnn, and granddaughter, Darcy, were passengers. Edward and Darcy died in the crash and JoAnn died from injuries sustained in the crash less than two weeks later.

After a lengthy procedural history, Old National filed a renewed motion for summary judgment last year that was denied by the trial court. The Court of Appeals reversed Wednesday, applying the foreseeability test from Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar and Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016).

“In Goodwin, our Indiana Supreme Court set forth a new standard by which a court should review the reasonable foreseeability of harm when considering whether a party owed a duty to another party in a negligence action. ONI’s motion for summary judgment argued the holding regarding foreseeability in Goodwin changed how the trial court should consider the evidence of foreseeability designated by the Accident Parties and, under Goodwin, ONI was entitled to summary judgment. We agree,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the panel.

“The broad plaintiffs here are motorists, the defendants are an insurance agency and its agent, and the type of harm involved was a multi-vehicle collision caused by faulty brakes on a large tractor-trailer,” May continued. We hold the insurance agency and its agent, who had no role whatsoever in the decision to put the vehicle on the road in its condition, could not foresee that its actions relevant to this matter, which are only answering questions regarding whether their client had insurance coverage, would result in injury to a motorist.”

The COA also rejected the accident parties’ claims that Old National “knowingly, intentionally, and fraudulently aided and abetted C&K to become a chameleon carrier” — changing its business identity to skirt enforcement of safety regulations. “However, the Accident Parties did not identify the tort it claimed ONI aided and abetted or conspired to commit, and thus no action can accrue,” May wrote.

“ONI did not owe the Accident Parties a common law duty, ONI did not assume a duty, and no statutory duty existed,” May concluded. ‘… Because all those theories of liability fail, the trial court erred when it denied ONI’s motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The case of ONB Insurance Group, Inc., d/b/a Old National Insurance, and Joseph E. Kenworthy v. The Estate of Joann Marie Megel, Deceased; the Estate of Edward J. Megel, Deceased; Darcy Megel; et al., 40A01-1707-CT-1513, was remanded for further proceedings.

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