Articles Posted in Indiana Court of Appeals Decisions

Recently, an Indiana appellate court issued a ruling regarding personal injury claims resulting from participation in sports activity. According to the court’s opinion, the case involved a horse jockey who was injured while training a horse at a racetrack. The jockey was injured when another horse, which had thrown off its rider, barreled into the jockey’s horse tossing him to the ground. The jockey sued the racetrack and the horse’s owner for damages based on negligence and premises liability. However, the court found in favor of the defendants, and the jockey was prevented from recovering damages for his injuries. The court’s opinion could have far-reaching implications for individuals injured while participating in sporting activities.

In reviewing the plaintiff’s claims, the court first reviewed Indiana sports-injury law, and mentioned a few important precedents. First, there is the rule of assumption of duty, which states that an actor who provides safety measures as a service to another and is aware the services will reduce a risk of harm to that individual owes a duty of care to that individual. A defendant violates that duty of care, and may be held liable for resulting injury, if (1) they are negligent in providing that service and it results in an increased risk of harm, or (2) the individual receiving the services relies on the actor in assuming the risk of injury involved. Next, the court discussed the concept that a sports participant cannot be held liable for causing injury to another while engaging in conduct ordinary to the sport unless they acted recklessly or with intent to cause the injury. This rule is rooted in public policy, and designed to prevent discouragement of athletic participation due to vexatious litigation.

In applying these principles to the case in its opinion, the court first pointed out that the plaintiff did not make any allegations that the racetrack owner’s negligence in employing certain safety measures it had in place increased the risk of harm to the plaintiff. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not present any evidence showing that he relied on the racetrack’s safety measures properly when deciding to engage in the activity. In effect, the court found that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury associated with participation in the activity. Therefore, the court ruled against the plaintiff in regard to his claims against the racetrack owner.

Earlier this month, an Indiana appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving allegations that the plaintiff was seriously injured when he was involved in an accident that was caused by the defendant, who was drunk at the time. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss when previous convictions for driving under the influence are admissible, and if such evidence is admissible, for which purpose the jury may consider it.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was driving to work when the defendant’s vehicle inexplicably crossed over the center median and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle head-on. Police arrived on the scene and conducted a blood-alcohol test on the defendant, which revealed he was legally intoxicated. The defendant was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted for driving under the influence.

The plaintiff later filed a personal injury case against the defendant, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the accident. During the trial, the plaintiff presented evidence of the defendant’s driving history, which contained two prior instances in which the defendant was cited for driving while under the influence of alcohol in 1996 and 1983. The defendant objected to the introduction of this evidence, claiming that it was “more prejudicial than probative” and violated the rules of evidence. The court disagreed and admitted the evidence, and the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,444,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $182,500 in punitive damages. The defendant appealed.

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On December 10, 2010, the Plaintiff in Marquez v. Kobler, (Indiana Court of Appeals 2013) was on bicycle, crossing an intersection in Indianapolis, when he was hit by an oncoming car that was turning left. An ambulance responded to the accident and the man was hospitalized with injuries. The bicyclist filed an Indiana negligence lawsuit against the driver who hit him. The suit argues that the plaintiff had the right of way at the intersection, and the defendant was negligent when she failed to yield, and should pay damages to the plaintiff as a result. The defendant argued that she was not entirely liable because the bicyclist was himself negligent by entering the intersection in the pathway of her vehicle, regardless of his right of way.The Accident

Mr. Kobler was riding his bicycle to work on the day of the accident when he stopped at the intersection of Sheila Drive and Pendleton Pike (U.S. Highway 36), and the traffic light was red. He intended to cross Pendleton Pike and travel north on Sheila Drive. The defendant, Ms. Marquez, was facing south on Sheila Drive, and intended to make a left turn and travel east on Pendleton Pike. There was a car in front of the defendant’s car in the left turn lane. When the light turned green, the plaintiff immediately started to propel his bicycle into the intersection and cross the street. The car in front of the defendant quickly made a left turn onto Pendleton Pike, crossing in front of the plaintiff as he entered the intersection. The defendant followed the car in front of her, noticing the plaintiff in her path immediately before she collided with him.

The Defendant’s Argument at Trial

The defendant argued that the plaintiff was at least partially responsible for the accident because the car in front of her crossed in the plaintiff’s path, and if he was paying attention he would have known to look for another car that could be turning left before he continued to cross the street. The defendant wanted the jury to hear this evidence, and have the option to find that the plaintiff was comparatively at fault, which could reduce or eliminate the defendant’s liability. Because the plaintiff undisputedly had the right of way under these circumstances, his attorney argued that the defendant was entirely at fault as a matter of law. Considering this, the plaintiff’s attorney moved the court to prevent the jury from finding him partially at fault, and instead to restrict their decision to the amount of damages. The trial court agreed with the plaintiff, ruling that there was no issue for the jury to decide with regard to liability, and that the defendant was 100% at fault for the accident. The defendant then appealed the decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
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Almost all tort actions must be brought within a certain amount of time otherwise the plaintiff is barred from bringing their suit. This is called the “statute of limitations,” and once it has run out, the plaintiff is out of luck. However, an opinion by the Court of Appeals of Indiana recently held that fraudulent concealment can act to toll the statute of limitations.Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc.

In Alldredge v. Good Samaritan Home, Inc., the plaintiff group was the family of a woman who was in the care of Good Samaritan Nursing Home. The woman had died, purportedly due to a fall that she suffered because of a pre-existing medical condition. However, several years after the death of their loved one, a former nursing-home employee told the family that their loved one didn’t die because of a fall.

Apparently, the nursing home covered up the fact that the woman actually had been involved in a fight with another nursing home resident, which caused her to fall. When the woman’s family filed suit against the nursing home twenty-three months after they learned the truth, the nursing home claimed that the 2-year statute of limitations had run and therefore the family didn’t have a case.
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After a jury returned a verdict in favor of the doctor in a medical malpractice case, an estate executor appealed on two questions of abuse of discretion: limitations on the scope of questions during the defendant’s deposition, and refusal of jury instructions tendered by the plaintiff. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s verdict in Ruble v. Thompson, finding that the court did not abuse its discretion on any of the points raised on appeal.

Larry Ruble filed suit against Dr. Lori Thompson as an individual and on behalf of the estate of his wife, Natasha Ruble. According to the Court of Appeals’ opinion, Dr. Thompson first saw Natasha during her first day of practice after completing her residency in September 1998. Natasha was fifteen years old at the time and sought treatment for abdominal pain. Dr. Thompson reportedly saw Natasha in about twenty appointments over the following forty-six months. A physician’s assistant working for Dr. Thompson requested a CT scan in July 2002, which revealed that Natasha had advanced liver cancer. The scan showed an eighteen-centimeter cancerous lesion, although CT scans and other diagnostic tools can detect lesions as small as one centimeter. Trial experts testified that Natasha had about a five percent chance of survival by the time she was diagnosed, and that her chances would have been as high as fifty percent had diagnosis occurred a year earlier.

Natasha died on April 30, 2004, having married Larry Ruble on March 15, 2003. Larry filed a proposed malpractice complaint against Dr. Thompson with the Indiana Department of Insurance and a state court lawsuit in July 2004. He alleged that Dr. Thompson negligently failed to follow accepted standards of care in her treatment of Natasha, resulting in her death.
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An unexpected invocation of the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA) led to the dismissal of an auto accident lawsuit in Schoettmer v. Wright, et al. The ITCA requires plaintiffs to serve written notice of a planned lawsuit against the state or one of its political subdivisions within 180 days of the loss. The defendant revealed in an amended pleading that it is a political subdivision of the state of Indiana, and the trial court granted summary judgment based on the plaintiffs’ lack of notice under the ITCA. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment with one dissent.

John Schoettmer sustained injuries in a November 24, 2008 automobile accident with Jolene Wright. Wright was acting in her capacity as an employee of South Central Community Action Program, Inc. (SCCAP) at the time of the accident. SCCAP is a private nonprofit corporation designated by the state as a “community action agency.” This makes it a political subdivision of the state, although SCCAP did not reveal this until several months into the eventual lawsuit.

Schoettmer corresponded with a claims adjuster for SCCAP’s insurer for several months after the accident. He rejected the insurer’s settlement offer in August 2009 and retained counsel. After his attorney could not negotiate a settlement, they filed suit against SCCAP and Wright in October 2010. SCCAP answered in November, and amended its answer with the court’s leave in February 2011 to add an affirmative defense of non-compliance with the ITCA. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding that Schoettmer failed to serve the required notice by the 180-day deadline, which would have been around May 24, 2009.
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The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s order granting summary judgment for the plaintiffs, and denying summary judgment for the defendants, in a dispute over insurance coverage. In Alea London, Ltd. v. Nagy, et al, two plaintiffs, who had obtained a judgment against a bar for injuries sustained in a bar fight, sued the bar’s insurance company for the judgment amount. The insurer argued that the bar fight constituted an act of battery excluded from coverage. The appeals court agreed, reversing summary judgment for the plaintiffs and instructing the trial court to grant summary judgment for the defendant.

The case originated with a fight that took place on April 30, 2004 at the Copper Penny Sports Bar in Hammond, Indiana. Plaintiff Christopher Buckler had a “verbal exchange” with a woman after he accidentally caused her to spill her drink on herself. Anthony Aponte, apparently in response to the exchange, hit Buckler over the head with a bottle. Buckler’s friend Richard Nagy, Jr., did not witness the battery on Buckler, but saw Aponte leaving the bar with Brandon Odonovich. Nagy followed them, but as soon as he stepped outside the bar, either Aponte or Odonovich struck him in the head with an object, knocking him unconscious.
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The Indiana Supreme Court has ruled that a man who was injured when his father drove into him, pinning him between two vehicles, may sue for damages. A trial court dismissed the lawsuit in Robert L. Clark, Jr. et al vs. Robert L. Clark, Sr., based on a state law that bars suit between family members in certain circumstances. The Indiana Court of Appeals overturned the trial court’s dismissal based on a different reading of the state law, and the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court’s decision.

Robert Clark, Sr. was driving a car on September 5, 2007, in which his son, 46 year-old Robert Clark, Jr., was a passenger. The son got out of the car when they got to their destination in order to direct his father into a parking spot. He stood several feet in front of the car and motioned his father forward into a parking space. Once the car was fully in the spot, the son motioned to his father to stop the car. The father pressed the accelerator instead of the brake pedal. The car lurched forward into Robert Clark Jr., pinning him between his father’s vehicle and the adjacent vehicle and causing extensive injuries to his legs.

Robert Clark, Jr. and his wife, Debra Clark, sued Robert Clark, Sr. for negligence. The trial court granted summary judgment for Robert Sr. based on his assertion of the Indiana Guest Statute as an affirmative defense. The Guest Statute bars suit for injuries against the operator of a vehicle by a family member of the operator, or a hitchhiker, provided the injury occurred while the person “was being transported without payment in or upon” the vehicle. The statute allows an exception for “wanton or willful misconduct” by the driver.
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In Kosarko v. The Estate of Herndobler (Cause No. 45A03-1012-CT-668), the Lake County trial court denied a motor vehicle collision plaintiff prejudgment interest. Margaret Kosarko (plaintiff) was injured in an automobile accident involving Daniel Herndobler. Kosarko sued Herndobler for her injuries arising from the crash.

Herndobler died while his case was pending and the administrator of his estate was substituted as the defendant. On March 18, 2008, Kosarko served the administrator with a settlement offer of $100,000 payable within sixty (60) days, but it was not accepted. Following a jury trial, a verdict was returned in favor of Kosarko in the amount of $210,000. Kosarko filed a motion with the trial court for prejudgment interest and the trial court denied the motion.
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In the case of Hamilton v. Key (Cause No. 48D01-0905-CT-749), Dewayne Hamilton (the plaintiff) was riding his motorcycle and was seriously injured after a collision with another motorist at the intersection of two roads located northeast of Pendleton, Indiana. Hamilton was driving in the left southbound lane and Jacob Key (the defendant) was driving in the right southbound lane. Key was stopped in his employers’ truck at the intersection due to traffic that had stopped in front of him; traffic was also stopped behind him, however traffic was not stopped in the left southbound lane. Another vehicle, driven by John Owens, was travelling eastbound toward the intersection and had stopped at the intersection to make a left turn to go northbound.

Key thoroughly looked around for traffic approaching the intersection from the north in the lane to his left (Key actually got out of his truck, stood on the doorsill, and examined the traffic) and motioned to Owens that it was safe to enter the intersection to make the left turn. Owens’s view north was obstructed by the line of stopped traffic in the right southbound lane. As Owens entered the intersection, Hamilton also entered the intersection in the left southbound lane on his motorcycle and collided with the car being driven by Owens. Hamilton sustained serious injuries and filed a lawsuit against Jacob Key. Hamilton also sued Ted and Sally Brown, alleging they were responsible as Key’s employers.
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