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Divided court affirms liability in 'courtesy wave' case

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a motorcyclist injured in a crash. One judge disagreed with the majority decision, stating the opinion is contrary to sound public policy.

In Jacob Key, Ted J. Brown and Sally A. Brown v. Dewayne Hamilton, No. 48A02-1007-CT-812, the question the court was asked to review for the first time is whether a driver who signals another driver to proceed onto a roadway is liable for injuries sustained by a third party.

Jacob Key, a truck driver employed by Ted and Sally Brown, was traveling southbound on Indiana State Road 9 when he approached a line of cars stopped at a stoplight. Key stopped, allowing enough space for John Owens to make a left turn in front of him from a perpendicular street. Key got out of his truck, looked behind him, and gave an “all-clear” courtesy wave to Owens, who then pulled out in front of Key to turn left. But Key had not seen motorcyclist Dewayne Hamilton traveling southbound in the adjacent lane. Hamilton, who was traveling above the speed limit, crashed into Owens’ car, and the force of the impact propelled Hamilton over Owens’ car onto the roadway. Hamilton sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash.

At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hamilton, allocating fault as follows: 5 percent to Hamilton, 45 percent to Key and 50 percent to non-party Owens. The trial court determined Hamilton’s damages to be $2.2 million and therefore entered judgment against Key and his employers in the amount of $990,000. The defendants appealed the trial court’s determination.

The COA held that the commonly used courtesy wave will never be sufficient to create a duty on the part of the signaling driver. It is only when a driver engages in a thorough examination of traffic in order to ensure another driver’s safety and gives an “all clear” signal, as was the case here, that a duty can be found.

The majority, citing Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992 (Ind. 1991), concluded that Hamilton had passed a “balancing test” established by the Supreme Court to determine whether a duty exists. In order to impose a duty, the court must balance: (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured, and (3) public policy concerns.

But Judge Paul Mathias disagreed that this case met the three-prong test in Webb, saying because Key did not see Hamilton, and Hamilton did not see Key waving Owens into traffic, no relationship had been established between Key and Hamilton.  

In his dissent, Mathias wrote that Key’s behavior was “laudatory,” because he took the time to thoroughly check for oncoming traffic before waving Owens onto the roadway. “Yet the majority opinion effectively penalizes drivers such as Key, who at least try to discern whether there is any oncoming traffic, by exposing them to liability for any resulting collision,” Mathias wrote.
 


 

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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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