Nelson v. Jimison

Decision Date04 May 1994
Docket NumberNo. 73A01-9309-CV-288,73A01-9309-CV-288
Citation634 N.E.2d 509
PartiesGloria NELSON, Appellant-Plaintiff, v. Dewey J. JIMISON and Meridian Mutual Insurance Company, Appellees-Defendants.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

G. Ronald Heath, David R. Day, Johnson, Smith, Densborn, Wright & Heath, Indianapolis Donald L. Dawson, Jeffrey A. Doty, Kightlinger & Gray, Indianapolis, for appellees.

David A. Nunery, Campbellsville, for appellant.

ROBERTSON, Judge.

Gloria Nelson appeals the summary judgment entered against her on her claim for punitive damages against the Meridian Mutual Insurance Company for the tortious breach of Meridian Mutual's duty to deal with Nelson in good faith. At the time the trial court entered summary judgment against Nelson, Indiana law did not recognize the present cause of action and thus, the trial court's entry of summary judgment was appropriate. However, during the pendency of this appeal, our supreme court expanded Indiana law to recognize the present cause of action in Erie Insurance Company v. Hickman by Smith (1993), Ind., 622 N.E.2d 515. Nevertheless, Meridian Mutual argues the trial court's entry of summary judgment may be affirmed on an alternative basis. Thus, the issue before us on appeal is entirely different than the issue before the trial court. 1 Restated it is:

whether Nelson has established the existence of evidence from which a reasonable jury could find, under the clear and convincing evidence standard, that Meridian Mutual acted with the malice, fraud, gross negligence, or oppressiveness which was not the result of a mistake of fact or law, honest error or judgment, overzealousness, mere negligence, or other human failing as required to support an award of punitive damages?

We reverse.

FACTS

The facts in the light most favorable to nonmovant Nelson indicate that on July 8, 1987, Nelson was riding in a car driven by her husband, Ronald, when Defendant Dewey J. Jimison, an uninsured motorist, ran a stop sign and collided with the Nelsons' car. Ronald was killed instantly. Plaintiff-Appellant Gloria Nelson suffered a broken leg and rib, contusions to her heart and lung, lacerations on her arm and multiple hematomas of the face, jaw, and neck. The broken leg caused a 10% permanent impairment of its use.

At the time, the Nelsons were insured by Meridian Mutual under an automobile insurance policy that included uninsured motorist coverage with liability limits of $50,000.00 per person and $100,000.00 per occurrence. Meridian Mutual paid the policy limits, $50,000.00, to Ronald's estate. However, Meridian Mutual disputed the value of Gloria's claim and initially refused to pay her the policy limits of $50,000.00.

Meridian Mutual's claim adjuster, Shirley Woodrum, initially valued Nelson's claim in excess of $50,000.00. However, Woodrum's superiors disagreed and valued Nelson's claim at a substantially lesser amount. Nelson's attorney repeatedly contacted Meridian Mutual, providing legal and factual information in support of Nelson's contention that her damages exceeded the $50,000.00 policy limit.

On July 6, 1989, Nelson filed the present lawsuit. Extensive discovery has taken place regarding the issue of Meridian Mutual's handling of Nelson's claim. Meridian Mutual was unable to comply with certain discovery requests because it had lost some of the documents and files related to Nelson's case. Nelson obtained the opinion of an attorney who opined that Nelson's claim was clearly Ultimately, in March of 1992, Meridian Mutual did pay Nelson the policy limits of $50,000.00, conceding that the value of her claim exceeded the $50,000.00 policy limit. This appeal relates only to Nelson's claim for punitive damages in her lawsuit against Meridian Mutual for its alleged tortious breach of its duty to exercise good faith in the handling of Nelson's claim.

worth in excess of $50,000.00 and that Meridian Mutual failed to properly evaluate or investigate Nelson's claim. Additionally, Nelson obtained the affidavit of an expert in the area of claims evaluation who opined that Meridian Mutual denied Nelson's claim when it knew or should have known that it had no legitimate basis for this denial.

DECISION

On appeal from the grant or denial of summary judgment, we use the same standard in ascertaining the propriety of summary judgment as does the trial court. Newhouse v. Farmers National Bank of Shelbyville (1989), Ind.App., 532 N.E.2d 26, 28. Summary judgment is appropriate and "shall be rendered forthwith if the designated evidentiary matter shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Ind.Trial Rule 56(C). Our proper role includes the careful scrutiny of the trial court's determination to assure that the non-prevailing party is not improperly prevented from having her day in court. Id.

Indiana Trial Rule 56(C) provides that, at the time of filing the motion or response, a party shall designate to the court all parts of pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, matters of judicial notice, and any other matters on which it relies for purposes of the motion. A party opposing the motion shall also designate to the court each material issue of fact which that party asserts precludes entry of summary judgment and the evidence relevant thereto. Id. No judgment rendered on the motion shall be reversed on the ground that there is a...

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  • Schimizzi v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Co.
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    • U.S. District Court — Northern District of Indiana
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    ...provide precious little guidance. The court turns first to the Indiana Court of Appeals' post-Erie cases. In Nelson v. Jimison, 634 N.E.2d 509, 512-513 (Ind.Ct. App.1994), summary judgment for the insurer was held inappropriate when the insurer ultimately conceded that the insured was entit......
  • Griffin v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co.
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    ...of mistake of fact or law, honest error or judgment, overzealousness, mere negligence, or other human failing." Nelson v. Jimison, 634 N.E.2d 509, 512 (Ind.App.Ct.1994) (citing Erie, 622 N.E.2d Given the evidence in the case, that error was not harmless for it could easily have affected the......
  • USA Life One Ins. Co. of Indiana v. Nuckolls
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