Special Relationships and the Dentist
Indiana Restorative Dentistry, P.C. v The Laven Insurance Agency, Inc. and ProAssurance Indemnity Co., Inc., __ N.E.3d __, 2015 WL 1087199 (Ind. March 12, 2015)
Plaintiff filed a claim against Defendant for a breach of tort duty arising out of a special relationship with Laven Insurance Agency (hereinafter “Laven”). Plaintiff also alleged a breach of contract action against Laven for its failure to procure full coverage. At trial, the court partially granted Defendant ProAssurance’s Motion for Summary Judgment holding that there was no duty for Laven to advise Plaintiff as no special relationship existed and that no implied contract to procure full insurance coverage existed.
The Indiana Supreme Court analyzed the two issues separately. First, the Court considered whether a special duty existed giving rise to Defendants duty to advise. The burden rests on the insured to prove a special relationship with the insurer. The Court considered four main factors when determining whether such a relationship existed, whether the insurer: exercised broad discretion to service the insured’s needs; counseled the insured concerning specialized coverage; held itself out as a highly-skilled expert; received compensation above the customary premium. As there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether a special relationship existed, the Court reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment that Defendant had no duty to advise.
Next, the Court considered whether an implied duty to procure full insurance coverage existed. In order for Plaintiff to be successful on this claim, the Court held that the Plaintiff must prove a meeting of the minds. Although the parties had a lengthy relationship, the Court held that the parties’ course of dealings did not establish an implied contract for Defendant to procure full insurance coverage. Specifically, the Court noted that each incremental increase in the insurance policy limits occurred after Plaintiff requested such an increase. For this reason, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment as to the second issue.