Indiana Court of Appeals Affirms Huge Award Against
April 11, 2013
April 11, 2013 By Gregory M. Gotwald, PSRB Partner
The Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed what it says is one of the largest defamation awards in U.S. history. The court says in its decision in State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Joseph Martin Radcliff and Coastal Property Management LLC, a/k/a CPM Construction of Indiana that State Farm should pay damages of $14.5 million to Joseph Radcliff and his company Coastal Property Management LLC after finding the insurance company could not prove its arguments on appeal.
A lawsuit from State Farm and a counterclaim of defamation came in the wake of State Farm denials of homeowner claims for hail damage in Indiana that occurred in April of 2006. Radcliff had formed a company to repair the storm-damaged homes. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company began denying many of the policyholders’ claims even though other companies were covering similar damage. Radcliff and his company began to help homeowners fight State Farm for coverage. State Farm then launched an insurance-fraud investigation into Radcliff and his company that led to Radcliff’s arrest on 14 felony counts. The charges were eventually dismissed pursuant to a diversion agreement with the State. State Farm then sued Radcliff and his company for racketeering, prompting the defamation counterclaim. A Hamilton County jury awarded Radcliff and Coastal Property Management the $14.5 million in 2011.
The Court of Appeals upheld the jury’s award. In doing so, it disagreed with State Farm’s three arguments on appeal that: (1) Radcliff failed to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence, (2) State Farm was entitled to a new trial on damages and (3) the public interest privilege for crime reporting and statutory immunity should have protected State Farm’s communications with the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
If you have any questions about the decision, please contact Greg Gotwald. Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP is recognized as a national leader in establishing the rights of policyholders in a variety of insurance cases.