Supreme Court of Indiana Finds School Not Liable for Student’s Death After Leaving Without Permission

Indiana’s Supreme Court recently decided that a high school could not be held liable for failing to supervise a student after the student left without permission. The 16-year-old student left the school grounds of an Indianapolis high school without permission and was subsequently shot and killed. His estate filed a lawsuit against the school claiming that it was negligent in failing to monitor and supervise the student. The school argued the student was contributorily negligent and thus was not entitled to compensation from the school. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Under Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, if a claimant is partially at fault for his injuries, he can still recover damages, although the award will be reduced by the percentage the claimant is found to be at fault. However, the Comparative Fault Act does not apply in cases against governmental entities. In cases against governmental entities, Indiana’s contributory negligence doctrine applies. Under the contributory negligence doctrine, a plaintiff cannot recover if the plaintiff is negligent and the negligence is even slightly the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The court explained that absent special circumstances, children over the age of 14 are able to exercise reasonable care that an ordinary person would exercise in similar circumstances. It also stated that a plaintiff is contributorily negligence if the plaintiff’s actions fell below the standard necessary for his own protection and safety.

In this case, there was conflicting evidence about whether the student left school to engage in a firearms deal or to purchase marijuana. The court found that this did not matter because 1.) there was evidence he was involved in some type of criminal activity 2.) he had committed a robbery the night before 3.) he left school to engage in some criminal act and 4.) he was found with a large amount of cash in an area known for criminal activity. The court held that whether he left to purchase firearms or marijuana, leaving school to do so was not an exercise of reasonable caution and caution for his safety. The court held that he knew there was danger in engaging in either activity. Thus, the student was contributorily negligent, and because his negligence was at least partly the cause of his injuries, he could not recover against the school. Therefore, the court affirmed the decision of the trial court in favor of the defendants.

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