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State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Earl

Court of Appeals of Indiana

January 24, 2014

STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
KIMBERLY S. EARL and THE ESTATE OF JERRY EARL, Appellees-Plaintiffs

APPEAL FROM THE JACKSON CIRCUIT COURT. The Honorable William E. Vance, Judge. Cause No. 36C01-1008-CT-13.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: RODNEY L. SCOTT, TRICIA KIRKBY HOFMANN, CHAD M. SMITH, Waters, Tyler, Hofmann & Scott, LLC, New Albany, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: ROGER L. PARDIECK, KAREN M. DAVIS, The Pardieck Law Firm, Seymour, Indiana.

BAKER, Judge. VAIDIK, C.J., concurs, and RILEY, J., dissents with opinion.

OPINION

Page 1010

BAKER, Judge.

In this case, we are presented with an issue of first impression in Indiana. More particularly, appellant-defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) asks us to join other states that have determined Uninsured Motorist (UM) insurance limits to be inadmissible. Here, a jury returned a verdict of $250,000 for appellees-plaintiffs Kimberly Earl and the Estate of Jerry Earl (collectively, " the Earls" ) after Jerry was injured in a motorcycle accident through no fault of his own. State Farm argues that the trial court erred when it allowed into evidence at a jury trial the $250,000 bodily injury limit provision contained in the Earls' insurance policy. State Farm contends that evidence of the bodily injury limit was both irrelevant and prejudicial. Determining that evidence of the bodily injury limit was in fact both irrelevant and prejudicial, we reverse and remand this cause to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

FACTS

On September 3, 2008, Jerry was driving his motorcycle on southbound Interstate 65 in Jackson County. Jerry was in the inside lane with one semi tractor-trailer in front of him and another in the right lane beside him. When the semi in front of Jerry pulled into the right lane, the semi to his right moved into his lane, forcing him to swerve to the left to avoid impact. Jerry lost control of the motorcycle, which flipped, and he was thrown into the grassy median. The driver of the semi, possibly unaware of what had transpired, did not stop, and was never identified. Both parties stipulate that Jerry was forced to swerve to avoid impact and was not responsible for the accident.

Jerry sustained extensive injuries including fourteen rib fractures in ten of the ribs on his left side, a broken left scapula and clavicle, a lacerated liver, a pulmonary contusion, abrasions on his legs, and a blood clot in his leg. He was taken to Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, then to Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, where he received treatment from a trauma team. After being hospitalized for two days, he was released and allowed to recuperate at home. Jerry did breathing exercises for his lung condition and, in December 2008, attended physical therapy classes. When he was told that his insurance would no longer cover the physical therapy, he did his exercises at home.

After the accident, Jerry could no longer interact with his family in the way he had before. Kimberly, his wife, testified that, after the accident, sleeping in bed was too painful for Jerry, and he slept in a recliner. She stated that " he was ... passionate and of course that changed, and that was always important to him." Tr. p. 234. Kimberly stated that Jerry had been a " prankster" before the accident, and that the pain he was in after the accident kept him from laughing and joking like he had before. In addition, Jerry was no longer able to enjoy many of the activities he engaged in before the accident, such as gardening and basketball. His son testified that his left shoulder drooped, and that there was " a very obvious sag" when Jerry stood. Id. at 166.

Page 1011

Jerry was the co-owner of Brooks and Earl Construction, and he was never able to return to work in his full capacity. Due to the pain, Jerry could no longer operate the equipment or lay pipe as he had before the accident. He attempted to do work at home on a laptop, but due to his pain, he had difficulty with his workload. Glen Brooks, his partner, testified that the business suffered, and that it " took its toll on [Jerry]." Tr. p. 203. Jerry dealt with pain from the accident until he passed away from cancer, an illness unrelated to the crash, on January 4, 2012.

Before Jerry died, he and Kimberly brought suit against State Farm, seeking UM coverage benefits under their automobile insurance policy. At the time of the accident, Jerry and Kimberly had a personal auto policy with State Farm that provided for UM insurance coverage with a limit of $250,000 per person. The policy also included an umbrella policy providing additional UM coverage in the amount of $2,000,000.[1] Kimberly was not present at, or involved in, the motorcycle accident, but filed a claim for loss of ...


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