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Justices affirm new trial in estate awarded $41,400 in hotel killing

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A correction and update has been made to this story.

The Indiana Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a lower court order for a new trial in a case involving a  $41,400 award made to the estate of a man who was killed at a Speedway hotel by a former employee.

“We find the trial court was well within its discretion in determining that ‘a contrary result should have been reached in the minds of reasonable men,’” Justice Robert Rucker wrote for the justices in affirming a new trial in Mary Elizabeth Santelli, as Administrator of the Estate of James F. Santelli v. Abu M. Rahmatullah, Individually and d/b/a Super 8 Motel.

The jury determined 97 percent of the liability for damages lies with Joseph Pryor, the man who murdered James Santelli while he was a guest at the Super 8 Motel in Speedway. The jury apportioned 1 percent liability to Santelli and 2 percent to hotel owner Abu M. Rahmatullah, which resulted in the $41,400 award – 2 percent of the $2.07 million damages award – to the estate.

Justices, meanwhile, affirmed the allocation of fault under the Indiana Comparative Fault Act as proper. In this negligence case, the court addressed the application of the Act to the issue of fault allocation in a specific context: that in which a premises owner has a duty to protect a business invitee from the foreseeable criminal act of a third party.

Rucker wrote for the court that it had determined that “the (Comparative Fault) Act abrogates the old rule of joint and several liability in suits to which the Act applies,” citing Ind. Dept. of Ins. v. Everhart, 960 N.E.2d 129, 138 (Ind. 2012).

“We determined that the elimination of joint and several liability was a reasonable trade-off for the benefits plaintiffs receive under the Act, namely: the removal of the contributory negligence bar to recovery,” Rucker wrote.

“It would be incongruous to permit Rahmatullah to be held jointly liable for damages caused by Pryor but not to permit Rahmatullah to seek contribution from Pryor. Our view on this issue is consistent with that of other states whose legislatures, like the Indiana Legislature, have included intentional acts in the comparative fault analysis,” Rucker wrote.

The Supreme Court ruling comes after a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the Marion Superior Court and remanded for a new trial. Attorneys said the case would be a key decision regarding premises liability.

“The Indiana legislature has the authority to expressly permit joint and several liability in circumstances such as these, but as of yet it has not done so,” Rucker wrote. “In allocating fault among multiple actors, a jury may consider ‘the relative degree of causation attributable among the responsible actors.’ Our statutory scheme thus allows a diverse array of factors to be considered in the allocation of comparative fault.”
 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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