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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. 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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