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Automobile accident involving police officer

May 25, 2011
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Trial Report

Automobile Accident involving police officer

Rolla Trent, individually and as administrator of the estate of Shirley Trent, deceased v. city of Peru

Miami Circuit Court No. 52C01-0503-CT-145

Injuries: wrongful death

Date: Oct. 18, 2010

Judge or jury trial: Jury trial

Judge: Hon. Christopher Goff, special judge

Disposition: Verdict for plaintiff

Plaintiff attorney: Jason A. Shartzer and Richard A. Cook

Defendant Attorney: Robert T. Keen, Jr.

Insurance: Governmental Interinsurance Exchange

Case Information: In the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2004, Shirley Trent was delivering newspapers from her vehicle in the city of Peru in Miami County. At about the same time, Officer Rodney Richard of the Peru Police Department was attending a shift meeting when he overheard a 911 call involving a suicidal male who had ingested an overdose of aspirin.

Richard recognized that the 911 call originated from his parents’ home and discovered that the suicidal male was his brother. He asked his supervisor for permission to respond to the call. After being given permission, Richard left the Peru Police Department for his parents’ home which was more than 24 miles away.

As Richard was traveling on Strawtown Pike Road in Peru, he crested a hill as Trent was delivering a newspaper at the base of the same hill. Richard’s vehicle struck Trent’s vehicle head-on. The impact took place in Richard’s lane of travel.

Trent suffered massive blunt trauma injuries including a fractured vertebrae at the base of her head and trauma to her brain, which ultimately resulted in her death on Jan. 1, 2005. Trent’s husband brought a wrongful death action against the defendant, city of Peru, and therefore the claim was governed under the rules and restrictions of the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

The defendant argued that Trent was contributorily negligent because she was driving her vehicle in the wrong lane and therefore the plaintiff’s recovery is barred. However, the plaintiff also alleged in the complaint that Richard engaged in willful and wanton conduct which, if proven, does not bar recovery for the plaintiff even if there is contributory negligence.

Prior to trial, the court granted the defendant’s motion to bifurcate the issues of liability and damages. At trial, Master Trooper Earl McCullough, the accident reconstructionist from the Indiana State Police, testified that Richard was traveling at least 94 miles per hour when he crested the hill before the impact. In addition, Richard testified that he had intentionally blacked out his speedometer because he did not like the glare it produced and therefore he did not know how fast he was driving.

There was additional evidence that Richard did not have his siren on at the time he crested the hill. At the conclusion of the liability phase of the trial, the Miami County jury returned a verdict finding that the city of Peru through its agent, Richard, was liable for the collision. After the verdict in favor of the plaintiff as to liability and prior to the commencement of the damages phase, the case was resolved in an amount equal to the cap for liability under the Indiana Tort Claim Act.•

– Jason A. Shartzer

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