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Justices disagree on whether jury instruction requires new trial

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The majority of Indiana justices ordered a new trial on liability for a school corporation being sued for wrongful death, finding one of the jury instructions could have misled the jury about a key issue regarding liability.

Maria Rosales sued LaPorte Community School Corp. after her son choked to death on food while eating lunch at an elementary school. The jury awarded her $5 million, which was entered as $500,000, the maximum amount then allowed under the Indiana Tort Claims Act. The school corporation appealed, and the focus of this opinion is Final Instruction 22. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial on this issue.

The majority found that the language of Instruction 22 reasonably could have been interpreted and applied by the jury in a way that substantially misstated the plaintiff’s burden of proof with respect to establishing negligence on the part of the school corporation.

“Such an interpretation effectively creates new duties not recognized by the common law in Indiana,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson in LaPorte Community School Corporation v. Maria Rosales, No. 46S04-1105-CT-284.
 
Because they are unable to conclude whether the jury’s verdict would have been the same if that instruction had unambiguously and correctly stated the law, the majority reversed and remanded for a new trial on the issue of liability only.

Justice Frank Sullivan dissented, pointing out that Instruction 11 laid out the required standard by explaining that negligence is failure to exercise reasonable or ordinary care. It’s well settled that jury instructions are to be considered as a whole and in reference to each other, he wrote.

“I see no basis for finding that the jury was misled here. Instruction 11 corrected any error in Instruction 22 such that the jury could not have been misled as to the law,” he wrote.

 

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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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