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Justices draw bright line on children's fault

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Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption that children ages 7 to 14 aren't capable of contributory negligence, the state's Supreme Court has confirmed.

In a unanimous ruling Monday in Clay City Consolidated School Corp. v. Ronna Timberman and John Pipes II,, No. 11S04-0904-CV-134, the justices affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the parents of a 13-year-old boy who died during basketball practice in 2003.

Kodi Pipes blacked out during a basketball practice. He wasn't yet cleared to practice without restrictions by his doctor when he participated later that week in a running drill and collapsed and died. Pipes' mother, Ronna Timberman, said she told his coach he could do walkthroughs at practice until cleared but couldn't participate in strenuous activity.

Timberman and Kodi's father, John Pipes, filed a complaint against Clay City Schools, alleging the school was negligent under Indiana's Child Wrongful Death statute. The jury ruled in favor of the parents and awarded them $300,000.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial because it found the trial court committed reversible error when it gave an instruction that Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption for 7- to 14-year-olds.

Applying the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 283A, and caselaw including Borttorff v. S. Constr. Co., 184 Ind. 221, 110 N.E. 977 (1916), and Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Department of Natural Resources, 756 N.E.2d 970 (Ind. 2001), the justices confirmed that Indiana law does recognize a rebuttable presumption that children ages 7 to 14 are incapable of contributory negligence.

The high court's ruling is consistent with the Borttorff precedent and accords with the unquestioned obligation that the alleged tortfeasor bears of proving contributory negligence, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan. Based on the instant ruling and Evidence Rule 301, the justices determined the trial court's final instruction No. 20, which stated the law recognized the rebuttable presumption, was a correct statement of law.

The Supreme Court also ruled that Clay City waived its argument that Kodi's parents were contributorily negligent; that the trial court didn't err when it instructed the jury that it "may" find for the school corporation if it found any negligence on the part of Kodi; that the trial court didn't commit reversible error when instructing the jury on proximate cause in Final Instructions Nos. 19, 21, and 25; and that the cumulative effect of the trial court's instructions doesn't entitle Clay City to a new trial.

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  1. Don't we have bigger issues to concern ourselves with?

  2. Anyone who takes the time to study disciplinary and bar admission cases in Indiana ... much of which is, as a matter of course and by intent, off the record, would have a very difficult time drawing lines that did not take into account things which are not supposed to matter, such as affiliations, associations, associates and the like. Justice Hoosier style is a far departure than what issues in most other parts of North America. (More like Central America, in fact.) See, e.g., http://www.theindianalawyer.com/indiana-attorney-illegally-practicing-in-florida-suspended-for-18-months/PARAMS/article/42200 When while the Indiana court system end the cruel practice of killing prophets of due process and those advocating for blind justice?

  3. Wouldn't this call for an investigation of Government corruption? Chief Justice Loretta Rush, wrote that the case warranted the high court’s review because the method the Indiana Court of Appeals used to reach its decision was “a significant departure from the law.” Specifically, David wrote that the appellate panel ruled after reweighing of the evidence, which is NOT permissible at the appellate level. **But yet, they look the other way while an innocent child was taken by a loving mother who did nothing wrong"

  4. Different rules for different folks....

  5. I would strongly suggest anyone seeking mediation check the experience of the mediator. There are retired judges who decide to become mediators. Their training and experience is in making rulings which is not the point of mediation.

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