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COA: Rescue doctrine applies to injured man

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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In an issue that hasn't been decided by Indiana courts, the Court of Appeals ruled that the "rescue doctrine" applies to people who are injured after stopping to help direct traffic after a car accident or other traffic issue.

There is no clear answer in Indiana caselaw or other jurisdictions as to whether someone who helps direct traffic is considered a "rescuer" entitled to a rescue doctrine jury instruction, wrote Judge Michael Barnes in Star Transport, Inc. and Jeffrey Cottingham v. Hervey Byard, No. 69A04-0711-CV-619. Star Transport and Jeffrey Cottingham appealed a judgment finding them jointly 75 percent at fault for injuries Hervey Byard sustained after he was hit by a car driven by Robert Peters. Byard was in the roadway with others who saw Cottingham's tractor-trailer was stuck on the side of the road and came to help to direct traffic while he attempted to move his trailer. Byard sued Cottingham, Star Transport, and Peters.

At trial, the court instructed the jury on the rescue doctrine and refused to instruct the jury of the doctrine of incurred risk.

Star Transport and Cottingham argue the rescue doctrine should only apply to people who actually attempt to rescue a person whose life or physical safety is immediately in danger, not someone who is directing traffic after an accident.

Indiana caselaw has addressed the rescue doctrine in detail twice in the past 50 years, and those cases didn't deal with the issue in the instant case. Other jurisdictions are split in the application of the rescue doctrine. Given that the underlying public policy behind the rescue doctrine is to encourage good Samaritan efforts, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled it's logical to encourage people who come upon a car accident to help avoid additional accidents by directing traffic without fear of being unable to recover any damages if they are injured while doing so, wrote Judge Barnes. As a result, the rescue doctrine properly applies to this issue.

The appellate court found the trial court didn't abuse its discretion by refusing to give an instruction on incurred risk because the jury was adequately advised of the principles underlying the incurred risk doctrine, wrote the judge. Also, Star Transport and Cottingham failed to demonstrate any prejudice from the trial court assigning three peremptory challenges total to Cottingham and Star Transport as opposed to allowing them to have three each, Judge Barnes wrote.
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