United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ENTRY ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT
TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's ("State Farm") Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Filing No. 46). After being involved in an automobile accident caused by an underinsured motorist and disagreeing with State Farm about the valuation of her claim, Plaintiff Deborah Hale ("Ms. Hale") filed a complaint in state court against State Farm, asserting claims of breach of contract and bad faith and requesting punitive damages. State Farm removed the action to federal court and then moved for partial summary judgment on Ms. Hale's bad faith claim and her request for punitive damages. For the following reasons, State Farm's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
On December 12, 2011, Ms. Hale was driving her vehicle, which was insured by a State Farm automobile insurance policy, in Anderson, Indiana. William Alexander ("Mr. Alexander") was driving his vehicle, and as he approached the intersection through which Ms. Hale was passing, he failed to stop at the red traffic light and struck the passenger-side front corner of Ms. Hale's vehicle. The low-impact accident caused damage to Ms. Hale's passenger-side front bumper, which was estimated to be a $1, 720.07 loss. At the time of the accident, Mr. Alexander was insured by American Access Casualty Company under a policy with a liability coverage limit of $25, 000.00. Ms. Hale eventually was paid $25, 000.00 from Mr. Alexander's insurer.
A. Medical Background
Ms. Hale did not notice or complain of any injuries at the time of the accident, but four days later, she presented to her primary care physician, Dr. William Kopp ("Dr. Kopp"), complaining of neck discomfort and left shoulder pain. Dr. Kopp diagnosed Ms. Hale with a neck strain. Twenty-eight days after the accident, Ms. Hale presented to an emergency room on January 9, 2012. She complained of pain in her left shoulder that radiated down her left arm as well as numbness in her left hand. She reported that she had been in a car accident the month before, resulting in neck and shoulder pain, but those symptoms had subsided and then returned. Ms. Hale did not have tenderness to palpation of her left shoulder and neck, but she did have some weakness in her left hand. While at the hospital, Ms. Hale's cervical spine was x-rayed, which showed no evidence of an acute fracture or malalignment and no evidence of prevertebral soft tissue swelling. The x-ray did indicate moderate degenerative changes at C5-C6 and some bilateral narrowing of the C5-C6 neural foramen. The impression from the x-ray was degenerative joint disease.
Ms. Hale had a follow-up appointment with Dr. Kopp on January 12, 2012, and he ordered an MRI of her cervical spine. The MRI was conducted on January 14, 2012, and it revealed degenerative disc disease at all levels of the cervical spine with mild disc space narrowing at C3-C4, C4-C5, and C5-C6. At C5-C6, the level where surgery later would be performed; the MRI showed broad-based disc osteophyte complex producing effacement of the ventral thecal sac and moderate bilateral foraminal stenosis on the basis of uncovertebral joint arthrosis.
On January 25, 2012, Ms. Hale presented to Dr. Francesca Tekula ("Dr. Tekula") of Central Indiana Orthopedics. She complained of neck pain, left shoulder and arm discomfort, and numbness in her left hand. Dr. Tekula reviewed the cervical spine MRI and observed multilevel mild spondylitic changes mainly at C4-5, C5-6, and C6-7. She also observed some neural foraminal narrowing toward the left at the C5-6 level. Dr. Tekula noted that there was no evidence of a fracture or cord injury. Dr. Tekula concluded that Ms. Hale suffered whiplash and had nerve root irritation with no significant neurologic deficits. She recommended a conservative treatment plan, including physical therapy.
Ms. Hale participated in seven physical therapy sessions from January 27, 2012 through February 8, 2012. As a result of the therapy, she realized significant improvement with the symptoms in her left arm but continued to experience neck pain and began experiencing headaches. On February 8, 2012, the same day as her last physical therapy session, Ms. Hale met with Dr. Tekula and reported that she had experienced complete relief of the symptoms in her left arm but was still having some neck discomfort and headaches. Ms. Hale reported experiencing steady improvement. Dr. Tekula's impression was that Ms. Hale had cervical radiculopathy quiescent, cervicalgia, and occipital neuralgia. Ms. Hale suspended her physical therapy for two and a half weeks because of a vacation in Hawaii.
On March 8, 2012, Ms. Hale again presented to Dr. Tekula and reported that her neck discomfort continued but she experienced only one fleeting episode of arm numbness. Ms. Hale was formally discharged from physical therapy on March 21, 2012, because she did not schedule additional appointments upon her return from vacation.
After a four and a half month gap in treatment, and seven months after the automobile accident, Ms. Hale returned to Dr. Tekula on July 26, 2012, complaining of pain in her neck and left arm, which radiated into her hand, as well as weakness and numbness in her left arm. Dr. Tekula determined that Ms. Hale was a good candidate for surgery, but Ms. Hale wanted to exhaust conservative treatment options, so Dr. Tekula scheduled a C6 selective nerve block.
Ms. Hale returned to her primary care physician, Dr. Kopp, on August 13, 2012. She complained of elevated blood pressure and headaches. Dr. Kopp noted that Ms. Hale had full range of motion of her neck without pain. However, he noted that her symptoms included neck pain with disc symptoms. On August 15, 2012, Ms. Hale received the left C6 selective epidural injection that had been scheduled by Dr. Tekula.
On August 28, 2012, Ms. Hale presented to Dr. Tekula, reporting that as a result of the injection she had no pain for about one and a half weeks but the pain had returned and it was not as bad as before the injection. She reported her arm felt numb and tingly and only occasionally uncomfortable. Ms. Hale and Dr. Tekula agreed that surgery would be the next best course of action, but Ms. Hale chose to wait on surgery until things flared-up again.
Just over a month later, on October 4, 2012, Ms. Hale again presented to Dr. Tekula. She complained of continued neck and arm pain and numbness in her left arm. Dr. Tekula scheduled surgery for Ms. Hale, and on October 30, 2012, Ms. Hale underwent a C5-6 anterior cervical discectomy and fusion. A large osteophyte and some free fragment disc material toward the left in the foramen was discovered during the surgery. There also was right foraminal narrowing due to disc and osteophyte complex. Ms. Hale was discharged from the hospital the next day, and the symptoms in her left arm were resolved.
Ms. Hale had her post-surgery follow-up appointment with Dr. Tekula on November 14, 2012. She reported that her pain was improving and that she was taking over-the-counter medication as needed for pain. Her arm pain was gone, her motor strength was normal, and her sensation was intact. Dr. Tekula's impression was that the radiculopathy was resolved. On January 9, 2013, Ms. Hale again returned to Dr. Tekula and reported that she was improving and only occasionally experienced slight pain and was not taking any pain medication. Ms. Hale's strength and sensation were normal. Dr. Tekula's impression was that the cervical radiculopathy was fully resolved. Then on April 12, 2013, Ms. Hale visited Dr. Tekula and reported that her neck was doing well and she only experienced some soreness in the evenings. Dr. Tekula recommended that Ms. Hale follow up in six months to assess bone growth and to call if symptoms persisted or worsened. There is no record of any subsequent visit to Dr. Tekula.
Ms. Hale presented to Dr. Kopp for an annual check-up appointment on November 11, 2013, just over a year after the surgery and almost two years after the accident. Dr. Kopp noted that on examination Ms. Hale had full range of motion of her neck without pain.
B. Insurance and Claims Handling
At the time of the automobile accident, on December 12, 2011, Ms. Hale was insured by State Farm under a policy with medical payments coverage limited at $25, 000.00 and underinsured motor vehicle coverage with a coverage limit of $300, 000.00.
Notice of the accident was provided to State Farm on December 13, 2011. On December 15, 2011, a State Farm representative contacted Ms. Hale and Mr. Alexander to gather information about the accident. Ms. Hale confirmed that she was injured in the accident, and the State Farm representative explained the medical payments coverage to her. Throughout the following days and weeks, State Farm representatives continued gathering information regarding the accident and provided information to Ms. Hale.
On December 28, 2011, State Farm requested a medical authorization from Ms. Hale to assist in obtaining medical records and bills for the claims handling process. State Farm directed Ms. Hale to forward her medical bills to State Farm, and it also explained to Ms. Hale its right to review any medical expenses to determine the necessity and reasonableness of the medical services. On January 3, 2012, Ms. Hale signed a medical authorization, which was received by State Farm on January 16, 2012. Beginning on February 6, 2012, State Farm processed payments for medical services provided to Ms. Hale following the accident. By March 19, 2012, State Farm had paid all of Ms. Hale's medical bills for services received from December 16, 2011 to March 8, 2012, ...