Contractor wins $14.5M judgment against State Farm

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A Hamilton County jury has awarded a local contractor $14.5 million in his prolonged legal battle with State Farm Insurance following a 2006 hailstorm that caused severe damage in central Indiana.

Joseph Radcliff, owner of CPM Construction of Indiana in Fishers, received the verdict on Wednesday after he countersued the Bloomington, Ill.-based insurer in March 2009.

The countersuit responded to an October 2008 complaint from State Farm claiming Radcliff committed fraud to obtain funds from the insurer by inflicting intentional damage to roofs of its clients to simulate hail and wind damage.

State Farm said Radcliff committed fraud on at least 10 occasions by intentionally damaging property in Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers and Noblesville.

According to a former CPM employee, Radcliff commonly told workers that “the only way to make any money is to create your own damage,” State Farm’s complaint said.

Through its investigation, State Farm provided information about Radcliff to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which forwarded it to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office brought 14 felony counts against him in September 2008, which were later dropped.

Radcliff countersued, charging that State Farm slandered and defamed him with its allegations. He further said the former employee who made the damaging comments to State Farm did so because he was terminated for non-performance.

Radcliff was represented by local attorneys Will Riley of Price Waicukauski & Riley LLC and J. Mark McKinzie of Riley Bennett & Egloff LLP.

Riley said State Farm’s acts of defamation destroyed the construction company, but the favorable jury verdict “shows that he’s been vindicated.”

In a written statement, State Farm said it is disappointed in the outcome of the trial.

“We put on [the stand] multiple adjusters, engineers and witnesses in an effort to establish our case,” the company said. “We believed the evidence supported the actions we took and the causes of action we filed. State Farm will weigh its options and make its decision on where to go from here in the near future.”

The trial lasted about six weeks. A total of roughly 40 witnesses were called to testify, Riley said.

The April 2006 hailstorm resulted in $1.5 billion in catastrophic insurance claims.


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