Appellate panel affirms dismissal of quadriplegic’s complaint against insurer

A man rendered a quadriplegic after a serious car wreck was unable to convince the Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday that his amended complaint was wrongly dismissed. The decision leaves in limbo collection of a $21 million jury award in favor of the injured man.

Several lawsuits have stemmed from a single-vehicle accident involving former co-workers Gregory Smith and Nolan Clayton, who was driving Smith’s vehicle. After they spent hours drinking together, the men got into Smith’s car, with Clayton having permission to drive from Smith, and eventually crashed into a tree.

Smith was ejected from the truck, suffered a broken neck, and was ultimately rendered quadriplegic. Smith first brought a complaint against Clayton for personal injury and property damage, resulting in a Marion County jury award of $21 million against Clayton.

Meanwhile, as one panel of the COA upheld the verdict in October 2018, another panel that same month reversed the Marion Superior Court, finding Smith’s insurer, Progressive Southeastern Insurance Co., was not obligated to cover him under terms of his uninsured motorist policy.

In January 2020, the COA ruled that Progressive was entitled to declaratory judgment as a matter of law. Then in March, the appellate court largely reaffirmed the ruling against Smith and declined to grant his requested relief.

When Smith’s second complaint was dismissed, he unsuccessfully appealed in Gregory Smith, As Assignee of Nolan Clayton v. Progressive Southeastern Insurance Company, 19A-PL-1959.

In affirming the latest decision, the appellate panel concluded that the trial court did not err in dismissing Smith’s second complaint, nor in denying Smith’s motion for joinder of parties or consolidation of actions.

It first noted that the nature of the vicarious liability claim in Smith’s second complaint still served as a legal malpractice claim against Clayton’s attorneys, Metzger Rosta, LLC, and that Indiana law does not support a respondeat superior claim being assigned to and litigated by Smith. It likewise found that Progressive did not have a contractual duty to defend Clayton and that Smith’s allegations in his second complaint, without more, cannot serve as the basis for a bad faith claim.

The appellate court then found that because neither Clayton nor Metzger could properly be joined as parties under Trial Rule 20, the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Smith’s motion for joinder of parties. Neither did it err by denying Smith’s request for consolidation of his Bad Faith Action and Clayton’s Malpractice Action.

“We see no contradiction in Progressive’s assertions as Smith contends and thus, Smith has failed to show any ‘resultant prejudice’ from the trial court’s denial of Smith’s motion to consolidate,” Judge Margret Robb concluded for the appellate court.

This article was first published by The Indiana Lawyer.

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