A divided Indiana Court of Appeals recently revived a defendant’s counterclaim for personal injuries sustained in an Indiana car accident case despite the defendant’s failure to assert his counterclaim in his answer. In Pumphrey v. Jones, Melody Jones (Jones) and William Pumphrey III (Pumphrey) were involved in a car accident while Pumphrey was delivering pizzas for RPM Pizza Midwest, LLC d/b/a Domino’s Pizza (Domino’s). Within months of the collision, Jones sued Pumphrey and Domino’s. A third-party administrator for Domino’s hired defense counsel to defend Pumphrey and Domino’s. Defense counsel entered an appearance for Pumphrey and Domino’s, informed Pumphrey of the representation, and scheduled a meeting with Pumphrey. However, for an unknown reason, Pumphrey did not attend the meeting. After several failed attempts to contact Pumphrey, defense counsel went ahead and filed an answer on behalf of Pumphrey and Domino’s. No counterclaims were raised in the answer; however, the answer did raise affirmative defenses as to Plaintiff’s own fault in causing the collision.
The parties thereafter engaged in some discovery, including defense counsel taking Jones’ deposition. However, discovery responses on behalf of Pumphrey were delayed because defense counsel was unable to locate Pumphrey. Almost two years after the collision, an associate with defense counsel’s firm discovered that Pumphrey was employed at a different Domino’s store. The associate spoke with Pumphrey and obtained his new contact information, which was different than what defense counsel had been using. Other than defense counsel’s initial contact with Pumphrey, Pumphrey had not received any of defense counsel’s other communications. When the associate spoke and subsequently met with Pumphrey, Pumphrey disputed the police report, supplied the contact information of a potential witness, assisted the associate in providing discovery responses, and indicated he was still treating as a result of injuries he sustained in the collision and wanted to assert a claim for his own personal injuries from the accident.
After providing discovery responses on behalf of Pumphrey, defense counsel obtained authority from Domino’s to represent Pumphrey in his individual counterclaim. One year and nine months after Jones filed her complaint, and right before the statute of limitations, defense counsel filed a motion to amend Pumphrey’s answer to assert the counterclaim. Prior to the trial court ruling on Pumphrey’s motion to amend and with the statute of limitations looming, defense counsel went ahead and filed the counterclaim, to which Jones objected. After the trial court denied the motion to amend but before Pumphrey received notice of the denial, Pumphrey filed a reply to Jones’ objection. Pumphrey then requested the trial court reconsider its order, but the trial court again denied the motion to amend. Pumphrey thereafter appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.