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COA: Mother not liable for death as gun buyer

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed summary judgment in a negligence claim in favor of a woman whose husband killed her daughter with a gun she purchased for him, finding the designated evidence doesn't show proximate cause.

In Gary Lewis v. Estate of Alvis Wynn, et al., No. 10A01-0804-CV-157, Gary Lewis filed a negligence claim against his mother-in-law, Phyllis Wynn, following the death of his wife, Linda. Wynn's husband, Alvis, shot and killed Linda and himself with a gun Phyllis purchased for him. Gary claimed Phyllis procured the gun used in the shooting and "negligently stored, entrusted, monitored, or allowed" Alvis to get possession of it.

Phyllis and Alvis were married, divorced, and remarried to each other over the course of nearly five decades. Throughout that time, Phyllis claimed Alvis was abusive, manipulative, and had a temper. Linda had claimed when she was a teenager in 1980 that Alvis had raped her, which led to the divorce. Phyllis and Alvis remarried a few years later, and then again filed for divorce in 2004.

Phyllis lived next door to Alvis during their separation and had changed the locks to her home. She allowed him to come in when she wasn't home to take his possessions, and she contended that's when he took all the guns from her home, including the one used in the shooting.

On appeal, Phyllis argued Alvis owned the guns and she couldn't be liable for negligently entrusting the guns because she didn't own them.

The Court of Appeals decided the designated evidence in this case doesn't show proximate cause because Linda's death wasn't foreseeable at the time Phyllis bought the gun. The designated evidence doesn't indicate when she bought the gun and the record is devoid of evidence she was aware of the threat of violence toward others when she bought it. Her own testimony suggests she bought the guns before they were separated, but doesn't say which separation.

"One who purchases a gun is not forever liable for all acts involving the gun, but only for those acts that are foreseeable at the time the gun is purchased," wrote Judge Melissa May.

The evidence also shows Phyllis wasn't negligent in storing or monitoring the guns because she had changed her locks and restricted Alvis' access to her home before the shooting.

Lewis also argued some accounts Phyllis contributed money to that were either in Alvis' name or joint accounts that weren't considered part of his estate should be used to satisfy any judgment against Alvis in his Wrongful Death Claim. The Court of Appeals held the trial court didn't err in holding Phyllis' contributions to the disputed accounts aren't subject to claims on Alvis' estate.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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