Appellate court vacates order appointing appraisal umpire in State Farm dispute with homeowners

By Chandra Lye | Feb 9, 2018

MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court has sided with State Farm in a dispute over a demand for appraisal by an Illinois couple.

The insurance company had filed a motion to vacate the appointment of an appraisal umpire in a property fire loss dispute that had been denied by Madison County Circuit Judge John Barberis, who is now on the appellate court bench.

A three judge panel - Justices Judy Cates, Thomas Welch and James Moore - vacated the ruling and remanded it to the circuit court for further proceedings. 

According to the ruling, the couple, Ronald and Jodi Witcher, filed a complaint after they were unable to resolve a disagreement with State Farm following a fire at their home.

“The homeowner’s policy provided for an appraisal process in the event of a disagreement regarding the amount of a loss,” according to the Jan. 26 appellate court ruling.

The couple claimed they had lost nearly $250,000 after their home was destroyed by fire. However, State Farm valued their loss closer to $159,000, the order states. The couple wrote a letter to the company on March 18, 2016, demanding an appraisal be done. 

“In keeping with the terms of the appraisal clause, State Farm was required to notify the plaintiffs of the identity of its appraiser within 20 days of receipt of the appraisal demand, meaning on or before April 10, 2016. The 20-day period passed without State Farm notifying the plaintiffs of its appraiser,” the order stated

On April 27, 2016, the couple asked the courts to intervene and appoint an appraisal umpire to the case. The court responded on the same day, appointing Dale F. Peek as umpire. 

However, on May 4, State Farm claimed that its adjuster had been trying to get in touch with the couple’s agent for more than two weeks. 

“State Farm further asserted that it had no prior notice of the circuit court’s actions,” the appellate court decision stated.

“State Farm noted that it had not been served with the petition and summons, and that it did not enter an appearance until May 4, 2016, seven days after the order was issued.”

The court decision stated that the lower court did not have “personal jurisdiction over State Farm when it entered the order appointing the appraisal umpire, and that order must be vacated.”

The plaintiffs responded saying that a summons and notice were not required, according to the court decision.

Yet, the court indicated in its decision that it disagreed with the plaintiffs.

“This was a judicial proceeding, and in such proceedings, a party to be bound thereby must have notice and an opportunity to be heard, unless that party had waived those rights.”

Thus, the appellate court vacated the order and remanded the issue back to circuit court.

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