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Defendants not negligent in father's suicide, murder of daughter

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A father’s decision to crash a plane his daughter was in – killing them both – superseded any negligence that may be attributed to his flight instructor or other defendants in a wrongful death action, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Thursday.

Beth Ann Johnson, Eric Johnson’s ex-wife and mother of their daughter Emily, sued the Lawrence County Board of Aviation, Eric’s flight instructor Tony Newbold, and the Lawrence County commissioners for damages for Emily’s wrongful death. Eric was supposed to take Emily to school, but instead, brought her to Grissom Airport in Lawrence County and flew the plane the two were in into Beth’s mother’s home.

Prior to the crash, Eric cursed at Beth on the phone and told her he’d see her and her boyfriend in hell.

Eric was a student of Newbold and had not had enough training to fly solo with a passenger. No one at the airport thought anything of seeing Eric there, and they did not see Emily in the plane.

The Lawrence Circuit Court granted summary judgment for all the defendants based on Eric’s intentional act of flying the plane into the home. Beth argued that the evidence didn’t establish that it was a murder/suicide and that it could have been an accident. She also claimed the trial court erred in determining that the misuse of an aircraft wasn’t a foreseeable consequence of the airport’s non-existent security procedures.  

The trial court was correct in ruling in favor of the defendants, the judges held, because the evidence shows that Eric intended to crash the plane and his criminal acts triggered the intervening, superseding cause doctrine and broke the causal chain between the aviation board’s alleged negligence and Emily’s death. None of the actions or inaction of the defendants could be considered proximate cause of the child’s death as a matter of law, wrote Judge John Baker in Beth Ann Johnson, Mother of: Emily Johnson, Deceased Minor Child v. Lance Jacobs, Steven J. Cummins, Stacy Cummings, Lawrence County Board of Aviation Commissioners, Tony Newbold, Lawrence County Commissioners, No. 47A01-1102-CT-35.

Also, nothing in the record suggests that the defendants should have foreseen that Eric would use the rented airplane to commit murder and suicide because of a purported violation of a duty to properly secure the airplane. He was on the calendar that day for a scheduled flying lesson, no one saw Emily at the airport or on the plane, and he didn’t act out of the ordinary that day.
 

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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