Justices: Jeans require new trial

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The Indiana Supreme Court vacated a judgment in favor of a plaintiff who claimed he was injured by slipping on diesel fuel at a gas station, because of a pair of jeans introduced as evidence on the first day of trial. Those jeans, which the plaintiff said he was wearing the day of the accident, were introduced by the plaintiff without communicating the discovery to the opposing party.

In Speedway SuperAmerica, LLC v. Gerald and Madeline Holmes, No. 45S05-0711-CV-258, Speedway appealed the trial court decision and Indiana Court of Appeals affirmation denying Speedway's motion to correct error and for relief from judgment under Indiana Trial Rules 59 and 60 and its request for relief under T.R. 60(B)(2) alleging newly discovered evidence.

Gerald and Madeline Holmes were traveling to Michigan in his refrigerated truck. On June 1, 2000, Gerald pulled his truck up to a fuel island at a truck stop and he slipped on what he described as diesel fuel, fell to the ground, and twisted his knee and hurt his back.

Gerald then changed his clothes, took a shower, and left the truck stop. The next day in Michigan, still in pain, he stopped at an emergency room for treatment. The injury has required him to undergo physical therapy, epidural injections for back pain, and knee surgery.

In November 2001, the Holmes filed a complaint for damages against the owner of the truck stop, Speedway SuperAmerica. Three weeks before trial, the Holmes' new attorney asked if they still had the pair of jeans and boots Holmes was wearing the day of the accident. The couple found what they believed to be the jeans and boots in their barn, where their son put them after cleaning out the contents of the truck.

On the first day of trial, Dec. 13, 2004, when Gerald was called as a witness, his attorney asked if he still had the jeans and he answered he found them in the summer. The attorney then stated he was giving notice to Speedway's attorney so that the jeans and boots could be displayed during Madeline's testimony. Speedway's attorney didn't object during trial but objected over the introduction of the evidence during a bench conference while the jury was on recess. The trial court allowed for the jeans and boots to be introduced as evidence but prohibited any testimony or inference the stain was diesel fuel.

The $1,125,000 awarded to Gerald was reduced to $562,600 because the jury found Speedway and Gerald each bore 50 percent liability.

Speedway filed its motions to correct error and for relief, and also a motion to test the jeans. The trial court granted only the motion to test the jeans.

Speedway's testing concluded that the jeans didn't have diesel fuel on them and the jeans' label shows the jeans weren't made as of June 1, 2000 and likely weren't manufactured until April 2001. After testing, the trial court denied Speedway's motion for a new trial.

Speedway is entitled to a new trial under T.R. 60(B)(2), ruled the high court, because the test results of the jeans proved Speedway met the nine requirements the Supreme Court has found are needed to order a new trial: evidence has been discovered since the trial; it is material and relevant; it is not cumulative; it is not merely impeaching; it is not privileged or incompetent; due diligence was used to discover it in time for trial; the evidence is worthy of credit; it can be produced upon a retrial of the case; and it will probably produce a different result at retrial, wrote Justice Theodore Boehm.

Although the plaintiffs argue Speedway didn't exercise due diligence in this case, the Supreme Court believes Speedway did. Speedway had asked for all exhibits the plaintiff intends to offer at trial, but that only yielded medical records. Also, it was the plaintiffs who discovered the jeans days before the trial and kept that information from Speedway, so the Supreme Court can't say that failing to request a continuance was a failure to exercise due diligence to discover the new evidence developed in a post-trial setting, wrote Justice Boehm.

The Supreme Court remanded the case with instructions to vacate the judgment and schedule a new trial.

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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.