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Divided court affirms liability in 'courtesy wave' case

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In a case of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a motorcyclist injured in a crash. One judge disagreed with the majority decision, stating the opinion is contrary to sound public policy.

In Jacob Key, Ted J. Brown and Sally A. Brown v. Dewayne Hamilton, No. 48A02-1007-CT-812, the question the court was asked to review for the first time is whether a driver who signals another driver to proceed onto a roadway is liable for injuries sustained by a third party.

Jacob Key, a truck driver employed by Ted and Sally Brown, was traveling southbound on Indiana State Road 9 when he approached a line of cars stopped at a stoplight. Key stopped, allowing enough space for John Owens to make a left turn in front of him from a perpendicular street. Key got out of his truck, looked behind him, and gave an “all-clear” courtesy wave to Owens, who then pulled out in front of Key to turn left. But Key had not seen motorcyclist Dewayne Hamilton traveling southbound in the adjacent lane. Hamilton, who was traveling above the speed limit, crashed into Owens’ car, and the force of the impact propelled Hamilton over Owens’ car onto the roadway. Hamilton sustained serious injuries as a result of the crash.

At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Hamilton, allocating fault as follows: 5 percent to Hamilton, 45 percent to Key and 50 percent to non-party Owens. The trial court determined Hamilton’s damages to be $2.2 million and therefore entered judgment against Key and his employers in the amount of $990,000. The defendants appealed the trial court’s determination.

The COA held that the commonly used courtesy wave will never be sufficient to create a duty on the part of the signaling driver. It is only when a driver engages in a thorough examination of traffic in order to ensure another driver’s safety and gives an “all clear” signal, as was the case here, that a duty can be found.

The majority, citing Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992 (Ind. 1991), concluded that Hamilton had passed a “balancing test” established by the Supreme Court to determine whether a duty exists. In order to impose a duty, the court must balance: (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured, and (3) public policy concerns.

But Judge Paul Mathias disagreed that this case met the three-prong test in Webb, saying because Key did not see Hamilton, and Hamilton did not see Key waving Owens into traffic, no relationship had been established between Key and Hamilton.  

In his dissent, Mathias wrote that Key’s behavior was “laudatory,” because he took the time to thoroughly check for oncoming traffic before waving Owens onto the roadway. “Yet the majority opinion effectively penalizes drivers such as Key, who at least try to discern whether there is any oncoming traffic, by exposing them to liability for any resulting collision,” Mathias wrote.
 


 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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