Articles Posted in Indiana Supreme Court Decisions

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana premises liability case discussing if a bar owed the plaintiff, who was a patron of the bar, a duty of care. Specifically, the case required the court to determine if the bar’s duty to the plaintiff extended to an attack carried out by a third party. Ultimately, the court concluded that the bar could not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because the bar did not know that the fight was impending.

According to the facts as laid out in the court’s opinion, the plaintiff and his friend were socializing at the defendant bar. When the bar closed, the plaintiff, his friend, and the remaining customers left. In the parking lot, the plaintiff and another man got into a fight, leaving the plaintiff permanently blind.

The plaintiff sued the bar, arguing that it was negligent in failing to take the necessary precautions to protect guests in an area that was known for criminal activity. The bar responded that it did not have a duty to protect the plaintiff from the unforeseeable criminal acts of a third party. The plaintiff claimed that the bar should have been aware of the dangers, because the police were called five times in the preceding year for fights occurring outside the bar between the hours of 3:00 and 3:30 a.m.

Earlier in November, a written opinion was issued about an Indiana product liability case discussing whether a plaintiff’s incorrect use of the product is a complete defense for the manufacturer. The court held that a plaintiff’s misuse of a product can be a total defense if it is proven by the manufacturer.

The Factual Scenario

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff purchased a rotary tool powered by air that was manufactured by the defendant. The tool included an instruction manual, outlining the proper use of the tool. Among other matters, the tool’s directions informed users to always wear safety glasses when using the tool; not to only use the cut-off wheel attachment if the safety guard is secured into place; and, only use attachments that are rated for a minimum of 25,000 RPM (revs per minute). The tool did not come with the referenced safety guard and the instruction manual did not inform users where they could obtain one.

Evidently, the plaintiff was helping a friend with a project that required the use of the cut-off attachment. While doing so, the plaintiff wore eyeglasses, which he believed would be adequate protection. In addition, the tool did not have a safety guard installed and the cut-off wheel attachment he was using was rated for only 19,000 RPM. The cut-off wheel attachment subsequently broke and struck the plaintiff in the face, causing serious injuries including the loss of his eye.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana car accident case discussing whether a man who was killed by an uninsured driver was covered under his employer’s car insurance policy. Finding that the policy did not include the employee as a covered person under the terms of the contract, and finding that the terms of the contract were clear, the court rejected the estate’s claim against the insurance company.

The Facts

The plaintiff was the estate of a man (“decedent”) who was killed while he was mowing his lawn. Evidently, the decedent was mowing his lawn when a driver who was high on methamphetamine struck him. The at-fault driver did not have car insurance.

The decedent’s employer had an insurance policy that contained uninsured motorist (UIM) protection. Additionally, the decedent was named as a “listed driver” in that policy. However, that policy provided that UIM coverage was extended only to “you and others we protect.” In this case, “you” referred to the decedent’s employer, as the insured.

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Earlier this month, the federal circuit court of appeals overseeing both the northern and southern districts of Indiana issued an opinion in a medical malpractice case illustrating the importance of expert testimony in Indiana medical malpractice lawsuits. The case was brought to the court by the plaintiff’s appeal, which claimed that the lower court had erred in finding in favor of the defense. However, the appellate court agreed that the testimony of the defendant’s expert witness was supported by the patient’s medical records and that the plaintiff’s expert witness was impeached as to his failure to consult relevant medical literature. As a result, the court affirmed the judgment in favor of the defendant.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the wife of a man who died shortly after he was admitted into the care of a Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital. Initially, the plaintiff’s husband was at the hospital for routine lab work, but when the results came back abnormal, he was admitted. At the time, the plaintiff’s husband suffered from a number of medical conditions, including morbid obesity, respiratory acidosis, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity hypoventilation syndrome, hypertension, and hyperlipidemia.

The plaintiff’s husband was not complaining of anything specific, but the plaintiff told hospital workers that she wanted someone with him at all times because he “was not acting like himself.” The hospital determined that the plaintiff’s husband was not in need of a personal sitter, which is normally only necessary in cases involving psychotic and delirious patients.

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Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Indiana issued a written opinion in a personal injury case brought by a woman who was injured when another student jump-kicked the bag she had volunteered to hold during karate practice. Ultimately, the court determined that, because jump kicks are an ordinary within the sport of karate, the defendant did not breach the duty he owed to the plaintiff.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a black-belt at a karate studio. During a practice session, she volunteered to hold the bag during a drill called “kick the bag.” She stood behind the bag and placed one foot in front of the other to brace herself, as she had done many times in the past. The drill consisted of sprinting towards the bag, and then kicking the bag with one foot, keeping the other foot on the ground.

The defendant was newer to the practice of karate, and had only obtained his green belt. When it was the defendant’s turn, he ran towards the bag but rather than keep one foot on the floor, both feet left the ground. The force from the defendant’s “jump kick” was so great that it knocked the plaintiff down, resulting in her injuring her knee.

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Medical malpractice and personal injury lawsuits go through several phases before the case is submitted to a jury at trial. Two of the most important pre-trial phases are the discovery phase and the summary judgment stage. The discovery phase is where the parties exchange relevant information to the case that the opposing party may not have or know to exist. Certain discovery, even of unfavorable information, is mandatory.

The summary judgment stage is where either party can ask the court to enter judgment on a case before the case is submitted to a jury. In order for a judge to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate, she looks at all the evidence and determines if either party is legally entitled to judgment in their favor. This is only the case when there are no “issues of material fact,” meaning that there are no legal issues that can be resolved in favor of the non-moving party that could result in that party’s victory.

Defendant’s Summary Judgment in Medical Malpractice Case Reversed on Appeal

In a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, the court corrected a lower court’s error in granting summary judgment to a defendant when it was not legally appropriate. In the case, Siner v. Kindred Hospital Limited Partnership, the plaintiffs were the surviving family members of a women who died a short time after being treated at the defendant hospital. The plaintiffs filed a medical malpractice lawsuit, claiming that the poor treatment at the defendant’s hospital resulted in the death of their loved one.

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In a decision that was released last month by the Indiana Supreme Court, the dismissal of a negligence lawsuit against a security company that employed a man who shot and paralyzed a woman while on the job was reversed, and the security company may be found liable for the woman’s injuries through a settlement or jury trial. This ruling appears to expand the breadth of claims that Indiana courts will allow to proceed to trial, possibly allowing Indiana personal injury and wrongful death victims to pursue more avenues to obtain compensation for their losses.

Resident Who Had Relationship With Security Officer is Shot After an Argument With Him While on Duty

The appeal in Knighten v. Davis Security Service was filed based on an incident in East Chicago, Indiana, that occurred on August 7, 2010 when a security officer employed by a company that was hired to provide security for the housing complex shot a woman whom he had previously dated after the two had an argument that appeared to be related to personal issues between them. Before the shots were fired, the woman had damaged the entrance gate to the complex.

As a result of the shooting, the woman is now paralyzed from the waist down, and she filed a lawsuit against the man who shot her, the security company that employed him, and the housing authority that contracted with the company to provide security. At the center of the recent ruling was the woman’s claim against the security company that employed the man, and whether the company can be held financially accountable for the man’s conduct.

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In an opinion released earlier this year, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the local chapter of a fraternity at an Indiana college may be financially liable for the damages allegedly incurred by a student while he was a pledge for the fraternity. In the same opinion, the Court held that the college itself and the national fraternity organization could not be held liable for the injuries.An Incident of Hazing
The plaintiff in Yost v College, Ind Supreme Court, 2014 (No. 54S01-1303-CT-161.), was a freshman at Wabash College and a pledge at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. On September 4, 2007, he was placed in a headlock by other fraternity brothers and held under a shower. The plaintiff lost consciousness, and the other fraternity members holding him dropped him, inflicting a head injury. After the hazing incident, the plaintiff filed an Indiana personal injury lawsuit against the individuals that hazed him, the local fraternity chapter, the national fraternity, and the college itself. The plaintiff argued that the college and fraternity organizations had a duty to prevent the type of conduct that caused his injury.

The Court’s First Decision
When the case was first filed, the college and fraternity organizations argued that they had no duty to prevent negligence or criminal activity that occurred in the hazing event. The plaintiff argued that the college and local fraternity had the duty of a landlord to protect him from reasonably foreseeable negligent or criminal activity. The trial court decided that the plaintiff had consented to the “horseplay,” and that his injuries were cause of the one fraternity brother negligently or criminally causing him to lose consciousness. As a result of this ruling, the cases against the college and two fraternity organizations were thrown out, although the plaintiff’s case against the one “fraternity brother” that caused him to lose consciousness was allowed to continue.
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In a somewhat surprising decision by the Indiana Supreme Court last month, the Court reversed two lower Courts’ rulings that a Plaintiff’s medical malpractice suit was not filed within the statute of limitations. In the case of Moryl v. Ransone, the Indiana Supreme Court accepted the Plaintiff’s argument that a medical malpractice suit shall be considered filed when the complainant delivers the complaint to a commercial courier service (i.e. UPS or FedEx), and not when the defendant receives the complaint. This appears to be a minor distinction, but in this case it meant everything to the Plaintiff’s case.The Case

On April 20, 2007, the Plaintiff’s husband died while under the care of the Defendant doctors and hospital. The circumstances of the death were suspicious to the Plaintiff, and she pursued a medical malpractice claim against the Defendants. The statute of limitations for an Indiana medical malpractice claim is two years, meaning that a medical malpractice complaint must be filed no more than two years after the alleged malpractice occurred or else it must be dismissed. Here, the Plaintiff mailed the complaint to the Indiana Department of Insurance, using FedEx overnight, on April 19, 2009 – one day before the statute of limitations expired. The Defendant received the complaint on April 21, 2009, or one day after the statute had expired.

The Trial Court’s Decision

When the case was heard by the District Court, the Defendants argued that under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act (“the Act”), a complaint is considered filed only when it is sent by US Postal Service Registered or Certified mail. If a complaint is sent any other way, the Act states, it is to be considered filed upon receipt by the Defendant. Because the text of the Malpractice Act is clear that a complaint is only considered filed upon mailing by Certified or Registered mail, and the Defendants received the complaint one day after the statute of limitations expired, the District Court dismissed the complaint under the Act.
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The Indiana Tort Claims Act requires those who have suffered an injury and plan to sue a municipality provide notice to that municipality within 180 days of the injury or loss. This is to put the municipality on notice of the charges against it and to allow the municipality an adequate opportunity to investigate the occurrence and develop any possible defenses.In a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court, the question arose: can a claimant’s notice act to restrict the scope of her future lawsuit? The facts of the case will illuminate any confusion.

The plaintiff was rear-ended by an Indianapolis police officer in July of 2008. The next month, the plaintiff filed a tort claim notice to the City, explaining what had happened, attaching photographs of the accident, etc. In addition, the notice contained the following statement:

Damage: Rear Bumper and side panels damaged, see estimate from Sam Swope. No injuries.
Claim: $960.99

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