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Justices draw bright line on children's fault

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Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption that children ages 7 to 14 aren't capable of contributory negligence, the state's Supreme Court has confirmed.

In a unanimous ruling Monday in Clay City Consolidated School Corp. v. Ronna Timberman and John Pipes II,, No. 11S04-0904-CV-134, the justices affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the parents of a 13-year-old boy who died during basketball practice in 2003.

Kodi Pipes blacked out during a basketball practice. He wasn't yet cleared to practice without restrictions by his doctor when he participated later that week in a running drill and collapsed and died. Pipes' mother, Ronna Timberman, said she told his coach he could do walkthroughs at practice until cleared but couldn't participate in strenuous activity.

Timberman and Kodi's father, John Pipes, filed a complaint against Clay City Schools, alleging the school was negligent under Indiana's Child Wrongful Death statute. The jury ruled in favor of the parents and awarded them $300,000.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed and ordered a new trial because it found the trial court committed reversible error when it gave an instruction that Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption for 7- to 14-year-olds.

Applying the Restatement (Second) of Torts, Section 283A, and caselaw including Borttorff v. S. Constr. Co., 184 Ind. 221, 110 N.E. 977 (1916), and Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Department of Natural Resources, 756 N.E.2d 970 (Ind. 2001), the justices confirmed that Indiana law does recognize a rebuttable presumption that children ages 7 to 14 are incapable of contributory negligence.

The high court's ruling is consistent with the Borttorff precedent and accords with the unquestioned obligation that the alleged tortfeasor bears of proving contributory negligence, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan. Based on the instant ruling and Evidence Rule 301, the justices determined the trial court's final instruction No. 20, which stated the law recognized the rebuttable presumption, was a correct statement of law.

The Supreme Court also ruled that Clay City waived its argument that Kodi's parents were contributorily negligent; that the trial court didn't err when it instructed the jury that it "may" find for the school corporation if it found any negligence on the part of Kodi; that the trial court didn't commit reversible error when instructing the jury on proximate cause in Final Instructions Nos. 19, 21, and 25; and that the cumulative effect of the trial court's instructions doesn't entitle Clay City to a new trial.

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  1. I was wondering about the 6 million put aside for common attorney fees?does that mean that if you are a plaintiff your attorney fees will be partially covered?

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  3. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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