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State Farm must pay Fishers contractor $14.5M, court rules

April 11, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a $14.5 million award of damages against State Farm Insurance to a Fishers-based construction firm.

The award is one of the largest defamation awards in U.S. history, according to the court.

Joseph Radcliff and his company, Coastal Property Management LLC, were awarded the damages by a jury in mid-2011after a six-week trial in Hamilton County.

Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm initially sued Radcliff and his company, which does business as CPM Construction of Indiana, in 2008, accusing him of racketeering and insurance fraud. The court found the suits were initiated after State Farm received bad press for denying homeowners’ claims for hail damage following a spring storm in central Indiana in 2006. Radcliff helped homeowners fight State Farm for coverage.

Radcliff filed a counterclaim, alleging defamation against the insurer.

The appeals court found the insurer couldn’t prove three arguments it made in an attempt to reverse the judgment.

State Farm claimed that its communications with the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department – which investigated claims made by State Farm against Radcliff that he created damage on customers’ roofs – were protected by statutory immunity and a common-law privilege for crime reporting; that Radcliff failed to prove actual malice by clear and convincing evidence; and that the damages award was excessive.

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