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No error in finding defendant jointly and severally liable

May 25, 2012

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the finding that a man was jointly and severally liable for damages following a fight over a girl.

Brandon Cessna sought damages for personal injuries from Cody Dallas and Cody Lewellen, who beat him up when they went to Indiana University. Lewellen previously dated Cessna’s girlfriend, and Cessna and Lewellen had exchanged Facebook messages. At some point, Cessna told Lewellen to come to Bloomington so he could fight him.

Lewellen and two friends, including Dallas, went to Bloomington to retrieve Dallas’ car, which he had left in Bloomington the weekend prior. On the way there, Dallas and the other friend, Kyle Morris, learned about the words exchanged between Cessna and Lewellen. Lewellen and Cessna arranged a meeting outside a dorm, and Lewellen beat up Cessna. Dallas kicked Cessna in the face while he was on the ground and possibly unconscious. Cessna’s family claims he’s undergone a personality change since the assault.

Lewellen and Dallas entered into plea agreements with the state over the assault. Cessna then filed his complaint against the two, which found Lewellen and Dallas jointly and severally liable and ordered them to pay $75,000.

Dallas argued that he should only be held liable for the damages specifically caused by him, citing Ind. Dept. of Ins. V. Everhart, 960 N.E.2d 129 (Ind. 2012), in which the Supreme Court interpreted the Comparative Fault Act as abrogating the old rule of joint and several liability in suits to which the act applies. But the COA found this abrogation only relates to liability ground in negligence.

“The Act clearly stipulates that Cessna may recover one hundred percent of his damages for the intentional tort from Dallas, as Dallas pled guilty after a prosecution based on the same evidence used in the civil proceedings,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley in Cody Dallas v. Brandon Cessna, No. 80A02-1110-CT-925. “Because both Dallas and Lewellen were involved in the battery on Cessna and both were held liable after a criminal prosecution based on the same evidence, the imposition of joint and several liability for Cessna’s damages complies with the statutory requirement of I.C. § 34-51-2-10.”

The COA also declined to address Dallas’ argument on proximate cause because it amounted to a reweighing of a witness’s credibility.

 

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