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Defendants not negligent in father's suicide, murder of daughter

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A father’s decision to crash a plane his daughter was in – killing them both – superseded any negligence that may be attributed to his flight instructor or other defendants in a wrongful death action, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday.

Beth Ann Johnson, Eric Johnson’s ex-wife and mother of their daughter Emily, sued the Lawrence County Board of Aviation, Eric’s flight instructor Tony Newbold, and the Lawrence County commissioners for damages for Emily’s wrongful death. Eric was supposed to take Emily to school, but instead, brought her to Grissom Airport in Lawrence County and flew the plane the two were in into Beth’s mother’s home.

Prior to the crash, Eric cursed at Beth on the phone and told her he’d see her and her boyfriend in hell.

Eric was a student of Newbold and had not had enough training to fly solo with a passenger. No one at the airport thought anything of seeing Eric there, and they did not see Emily in the plane.

The Lawrence Circuit Court granted summary judgment for all the defendants based on Eric’s intentional act of flying the plane into the home. Beth argued that the evidence didn’t establish that it was a murder/suicide and that it could have been an accident. She also claimed the trial court erred in determining that the misuse of an aircraft wasn’t a foreseeable consequence of the airport’s non-existent security procedures.  

The trial court was correct in ruling in favor of the defendants, the judges held, because the evidence shows that Eric intended to crash the plane and his criminal acts triggered the intervening, superseding cause doctrine and broke the causal chain between the aviation board’s alleged negligence and Emily’s death. None of the actions or inaction of the defendants could be considered proximate cause of the child’s death as a matter of law, wrote Judge John Baker in Beth Ann Johnson, Mother of: Emily Johnson, Deceased Minor Child v. Lance Jacobs, Steven J. Cummins, Stacy Cummings, Lawrence County Board of Aviation Commissioners, Tony Newbold, Lawrence County Commissioners, No. 47A01-1102-CT-35.

Also, nothing in the record suggests that the defendants should have foreseen that Eric would use the rented airplane to commit murder and suicide because of a purported violation of a duty to properly secure the airplane. He was on the calendar that day for a scheduled flying lesson, no one saw Emily at the airport or on the plane, and he didn’t act out of the ordinary that day.
 

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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