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Yoakum v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co.

Supreme Court of Idaho

July 22, 1996, Filed

Docket No. 21838, 1996 Opinion No. 89

Opinion

 [*173]  [**418]   TROUT, Justice

This is a tort action brought against an insurer, Hartford Fire Insurance Company (Hartford), for its alleged misconduct in investigating  [*174]   [**419]  and litigating a wrongful death claim Richard and Kathleen Yoakum (the Yoakums) brought against the insured, City of McCall (McCall).

BACKGROUND

On December 6, 1990, the Yoakums filed a wrongful death cause of action against McCall in connection with the death of their minor son. The youth was killed when the golf course maintenance vehicle he was riding in, the property of McCall, tipped over during a turn.

The Chief of Police [***2]  in McCall initially requested that an officer of the Idaho State Police, Major Thompson (Thompson), perform an accident investigation and reconstruction. Pursuant to his investigation, Thompson filed a report concluding, among other things, that the golf course vehicle was unsafe to operate at any speed. Thompson based this conclusion primarily upon calculations he had performed using various physical parameters including the vehicle's dimensions, a drag factor, and the radius of the turn the vehicle was negotiating when it tipped over. Thompson did not drive the golf course vehicle as part of his investigation, however, as it was still damaged and McCall had not yet determined whether they would repair it.

Subsequent to completing his report Thompson was placed on administrative leave from the Idaho State Police for reasons unrelated to this case and, during that time, he was hired as an expert witness by the law firm of Cantrill, Skinner, Sullivan & King (Cantrill Skinner). Under McCall's contract of insurance, Hartford had retained Cantrill Skinner to undertake McCall's defense. After Thompson was terminated from the Idaho State Police, he travelled to McCall at the request of [***3]  Hartford to reexamine the vehicle. After Thompson had the opportunity to actually ride in the newly repaired vehicle, he had cause to review his original calculations. Thompson determined that he had included an incorrect figure in a formula he had used to obtain the vehicle's roll-over speed. A new calculation resulted in a determination that the roll-over speed of the vehicle was approximately twenty-two miles per hour, and not the two or three miles per hour he had originally calculated. As a result, Thompson changed his original opinion that the vehicle was unsafe to operate at any speed.

Following the accident, Hartford's claims manager, Phyllis Sanderson (Sanderson), had also been involved in investigating the Yoakums' claim against McCall. Yoakums contend that, in the course of her investigation and despite being advised not to do so, Sanderson attempted to contact the driver of the golf course vehicle at the time of the accident, a minor, without obtaining his mother's consent. The Yoakums also maintain that Sanderson threatened to terminate the driver's insurance coverage and represented to the driver's mother that Mr. Yoakum had told people that he was going to retire on [***4]  the insurance proceeds from the suit against McCall. After discovering Thompson's change of opinion and Sanderson's activities, the Yoakums accepted Hartford's offer of judgment for $ 150,000 on January 3, 1992, and a final judgment was then entered.

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129 Idaho 171 *; 923 P.2d 416 **; 1996 Ida. LEXIS 92 ***

RICHARD YOAKUM and KATHLEEN YOAKUM, husband and wife, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. HARTFORD FIRE INSURANCE CO., a Connecticut corporation, Defendant-Respondent.

Subsequent History:  [***1]  Petition for Rehearing Denied October 1, 1996. Released for Publication October 1, 1996.

Prior History: Appeal from the District Court of the Fourth Judicial District of the State of Idaho, Ada County. Hon. Robert G. Newhouse, District Judge.

Appeal from order dismissing certain causes of action and order granting motion for summary judgment.

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

cause of action, district court, hiring, summary judgment motion, calculations, insurer, speed, spoliation of evidence, destroyed, summary judgment, golf course, driver's, Corrupt, outrage, racketeering, misconduct, non-moving, spoliation, damages, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unreasonable interference, intentional interference, private cause of action, improper motive, right of action, expert witness, civil rights, violations, reexamine, Bribery

Civil Procedure, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Dismiss, Failure to State Claim, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Summary Judgment Review, General Overview, Summary Judgment, Opposing Materials, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Motions for Summary Judgment, Burdens of Proof, Genuine Disputes, Governments, Legislation, Statutory Remedies & Rights, Civil Rights Law, Section 1983 Actions, Elements, Protected Rights, Criminal Law & Procedure, Criminal Offenses, Obstruction of Administration of Justice, Elements, Protection of Rights, Racketeering, Racketeer Influenced & Corrupt Organizations Act, Judgments, Preclusion of Judgments, Res Judicata, Evidence, Relevance, Preservation of Relevant Evidence, Spoliation, Torts, Intentional Torts, Remedies, Damages, Special Damages, International Trade Law, Defamation, Pleadings, Heightened Pleading Requirements, Costs & Attorney Fees