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Ellis v. Anderson Tully Company

December 31, 1998

FAYE ELLIS, CONSERVATOR OF THE ESTATE OF SUSAN LONG GRIFFIN
v.
ANDERSON TULLY COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waller, Justice, For The Court:

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 02/05/97

TRIAL JUDGE: HON. VICKI R. BARNES

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: WARREN COUNTY CHANCERY COURT

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - PERSONAL INJURY

EN BANC.

INTRODUCTION

¶1. This action arose from an automobile accident on August 14, 1993. Susan Long Griffin was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Namie J. Tuggle. Faye Ellis, Griffin's mother and appointed conservator, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Griffin against Tuggle and Isle of Capri Casino seeking general damages for Griffin's injuries.

¶2. Griffin was covered by a plan of medical insurance through her husband's employer, Anderson Tully Company (ATCO). ATCO paid the majority of Griffin's medical expenses under the plan.

¶3. On May 4, 1995, ATCO filed a "Complaint for Declaratory Judgment" in Warren County Circuit Court seeking clarification of the rights and obligations of all parties connected with the accident. Before the circuit Judge resolved this claim, Tuggle and his insurers interpleaded the policy limits of Tuggle's $100,000 policy in Warren County Chancery Court. The Chancellor held ATCO was entitled to receive the entirety of the fund based on the subrogation agreement in ATCO's group benefit plan. The Chancellor ordered the interpleaded funds not be distributed until the resolution of Ellis's circuit court law suit against Tuggle, subject to Tuggle's insurer having the right to reclaim the funds if there were a finding of non-liability. Ellis filed a motion to reconsider asking the Chancellor to address the issue of attorneys' fees. The Chancellor found Ellis's attorneys were not entitled to any fees from the interpleaded funds. Ellis now appeals.

FACTS OF THE CASE

¶4. On August 14, 1993, Griffin was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Tuggle. Tuggle ran off the road after he and Griffin left the Isle of Capri Casino. In the accident Griffin suffered severe permanent brain injuries and incurred substantial medical expenses. Tuggle's negligence was allegedly a proximate cause of the accident and Griffin's injuries. Allegedly the Isle of Capri Casino served Tuggle alcoholic beverages to the point where he was visibly intoxicated. Intoxicated, Tuggle left the Isle of Capri Casino and the accident occurred.

¶5. Griffin was covered by a plan of medical insurance through her husband's employer, ATCO. ATCO paid the majority of Griffin's medical expenses under the plan.

¶6. ATCO's medical group benefit plan provides the following: In the event any hospital service or medical benefit is provided or any payment is made to a member under this Document, the Claims Service Manager shall be subrogated and succeed to the member's or dependent's right of recovery against any person or organization, and the member shall execute and deliver such instruments and take such other actions as the Service Manager may require to secure such rights. Neither the member nor the dependent will do anything to prejudice the rights given the Claims Service Manager by this paragraph without its consent.

¶7. At the time of the accident, Tuggle had liability insurance coverage of $100,000 through Kemper National Insurance Company and American Mutual Insurance Company. Griffin's husband was also covered by an under insured motorist policy from State Farm Insurance Company for $26,000. *fn1

¶8. On May 4, 1995, ATCO filed a "Complaint for Declaratory Judgment" in Warren County Circuit Court seeking clarification of the rights and obligations of all parties connected with the accident. Before the circuit Judge resolved this claim, Tuggle and his insurers interpleaded the policy limits of Tuggle's $100,000 policy in Warren County Chancery Court. Without issuing a final decision, the circuit Judge sent the case to Warren County Chancery Court for a determination of the rights of the parties in the pending interpleader action. *fn2

ΒΆ9. On August 8, 1996 Faye Ellis, as Griffin's conservator, filed a lawsuit on behalf of Griffin against Tuggle and the Isle of Capri Casino seeking ...


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