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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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