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Couple not negligent in baby's death

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A couple did not breach their duty to protect a baby from a dangerous condition on their property in which a 2-month-old died after his mother smothered him while the two slept on a sofa at the couple's home. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed judgment as a matter of law in favor of the couple, ruling the parents of the infant had the duty to protect the child.

In Alisha Harradon and William Kenneth Jones Jr., individually and as parents of William Kenneth Jones III, deceased v. Keith and Kathy Schlamadinger, No. 75A03-0903-CV-114, 17-year-old parents Alisha Harradon and William Kenneth Jones Jr. claimed William's aunt and uncle, the Schlamadingers, were negligent and owed a reasonable care of duty to their son. William III died after Alisha decided to sleep on the Schlamadingers' sofa with the infant. The baby suffocated and died.

The parents filed a wrongful death complaint alleging the Schlamadingers' negligent failure to provide appropriate sleeping accommodations was the proximate cause of the baby's death. Kathy told the couple they could sleep in a spare bedroom or on the sofa or loveseat in the living room. Alisha chose to sleep on the couch with the baby, even though William wasn't comfortable with this sleeping arrangement.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the aunt and uncle, ruling the infant's parents exercised total parental control over the baby and had a duty at all times to provide for his safety. The Court of Appeals agreed.

The appellate court took into consideration that the three were invitees on the Schlamadingers' property, that the infant was entirely dependant on his parents for his care, and that even though the parents were minors, they were charged with exercising the standard of care of adults.

"This is especially so because Parents had engaged in the adult activities of conceiving the child at issue and had exclusively cared for the child from its birth until its death," wrote Judge Paul Mathias.

The parents exclusively cared for the baby on the night of his death and the baby was never in Kathy's care. Public policy and common sense dictate that the duty to provide for a child's safety will usually rest with the child's parents while the child is in the parents' presence, he continued.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the parents' claim that the Schlamadingers owed a duty to the baby to exercise reasonable care to protect him from a condition on their property - the sofa. The sofa is a common household item that generally doesn't present an unreasonable risk of harm to a baby, wrote Judge Mathias, and the sofa wasn't a dangerous condition on their property within the meaning of Section 343 of Restatement (Second) of Torts.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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