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First impression issue on 'in loco parentis' doctrine

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Until Friday, Indiana courts had never specifically addressed the application of the in loco parentis doctrine in the context of a private club sport that isn’t affiliated with a school. The Indiana Court of Appeals addressed the issue in a lawsuit against a private club volleyball coach and the volleyball club following the injury of a minor player while on private property.

In Kevin A. Griffin and Maureen O. Griffin, et al. v. George E. Simpson, Team Indiana Volleyball, Inc., et al., No. 18A02-1009-CT-1064, parents Kevin and Maureen Griffin sued the grandparents of one of their daughter’s teammates, the teammate’s mother, the daughter’s volleyball coach, and the private volleyball club after their daughter B.G. was injured falling off a golf cart. During a long break between matches in Muncie, B.G., some other teammates, and coach Becky Murray, went to the home of George and Sharon Simpson to pass time before the next match. B.G. went to the home after being invited by her teammate’s mother while B.G.’s father drove back to Indianapolis to watch another child’s sporting event.  

Murray, who was pregnant at the time, went upstairs in the Simpsons’ home to nap while some of the players rode around in a golf cart on the Simpsons’ property. Despite warnings of only allowing the Simpson’s granddaughter to drive and to not drive up a certain hill, three girls went where they weren’t supposed to go, and B.G. flew out of the cart in an accident and was injured.

The trial court granted Team Indiana Volleyball and Murray’s motion for summary judgment, that as a matter of law, Murray owed no duty to B.G. while the team was on break.

The appellate court examined the in loco parentis doctrine with respect to Murray, and held it didn’t apply to her under the facts of this case. B.G.’s father gave permission for B.G. to attend after the teammate’s mother invited her. There’s no evidence that B.G.’s father even knew whether Murray would be there or supervising the girls, as she had originally planned on staying at the tournament to watch matches before feeling ill. Because of this, Kevin Griffin couldn’t have entrusted B.G. to Murray’s care during the break between tournament sessions, and Murray didn’t demonstrate any intent to assume parental status or undertake an affirmative duty regarding B.G. during the break, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

The Griffins also asserted that Murray gratuitously assumed a duty to supervise the players by giving them instructions regarding which activities were permissible at the Simpsons’ home during their break. But it was the Simpsons, as the property owners, and the two other parents as the organizers of the impromptu visit to the Simpsons’ home, who were responsible to instruct and supervise the girls during their outdoor activities, wrote the judge.

“In sum, the impromptu gathering was not a ‘team event,’ and Coach Murray was merely a guest whose attendance was due to a last-minute change of plans when she was presented with an invitation that included the opportunity to nap,” he wrote. “As such, she no more deliberately and specifically assumed a duty to supervise B.G.’s golf-carting activity at Mr. and Mrs. Simpson’s house than she would deliberately or specifically have assumed the obligation to dress a player in warm clothes during winter or put her to bed early on the night before a match.”

The judges also held because Murray didn’t commit the tort of negligent supervision, then respondeat superior cannot apply against Team Indiana Volleyball.
 

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