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COA adopts Restatement (Third) of Torts Section 14

March 29, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court in concluding a new trial is warranted to determine allocation of fault in a man’s murder. At issue is the percentage of fault to allocate to a criminal defendant and his former employer.

In Mary E. Santelli, as Administrator of the Estate of James F. Santelli v. Abu M. Rahmatullah, Individually and d/b/a Super 8 Motel, No. 49A04-1011-CT-704, the estate of James F. Santelli filed a suit against Abu M. Rahmatullah, arguing he had breached his duty of care to Santelli by hiring Joseph Pryor, giving him a master keycard to the motel without running a criminal background check, and failing to provide proper security to the motel. After he left his job with the hotel, Pryor broke into the room Santelli was staying in and murdered him. Rahmatullah asserted a nonparty defense, naming Pryor as a nonparty defendant.

The jury allocated one percent fault to Santelli, two percent to Rahmatullah, and 97 percent to Pryor and entered a verdict in favor of the estate for $41,400 – the portion of the damages award for which Rahmatullah was liable. The estate filed a motion to correct error and sought a new trial, claiming the trial court erred by instructing the jury to allocate fault among Santelli, Rahmatullah and Pryor without also instructing the jury on the very duty doctrine. The trial court set aside the verdict with respect to allocation of fault.

The COA concluded that the very duty doctrine is not abrogated by the Indiana Tort Claims Act, and at trial, the judge should instruct the jury on the very duty doctrine, as set forth in Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 449. The judges also decided to adopt Section 14 of Restatement (Third) of Torts, entitled “Tortfeasor Liable For Failure To Protect The Plaintiff From The Specific Risk Of An Intentional Tort,” holding that it would enable a jury to determine fault in a manner that will carry out the goal of adequately compensating the injured party.

The issue is remanded for further proceedings.

 

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