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Justices take guest statute case

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The Indiana Supreme Court has accepted a case that deals with whether a tort claim filed by a son against his father should be precluded by the Indiana Guest Statute. The case prompted each judge on the Indiana Court of Appeals panel that heard the case to author an opinion.

In the memorandum decision in Robert L. Clark, Jr. and Debra Clark v. Robert L. Clark, Sr., No. 01S02-1112-CT-690, Robert Clark Jr. and his wife, Debra, alleged negligence and loss of consortium against Robert Clark Sr. following an accident that severely injured Clark Jr.’s leg. The son had traveled with his father to a friend’s home to fill jugs with drinking water. When Clark Jr. tried to help his father parallel park, Clark Sr. hit the gas pedal instead of the break, hitting his son.

Clark Sr. asserted the Indiana Guest Statute as an affirmative defense, and the trial court granted his motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the majority found that the statute – which defines when someone responsible for operating a motor vehicle is not liable for a loss or damage arising from injuries or death to certain people, including one’s child – was inapplicable in the case and does not preclude the couple’s suit against Clark Sr.

Clark Jr. never claimed he was “in or upon” his father’s vehicle or “being transported” at the time he was injured. Chief Judge Margret Robb dissented, finding the better reading of Clark Sr.’s answers to requests for admissions is that they used “in” and “upon” in a generic and factual sense and not a legal sense.

“I read Senior as admitting that Junior was not literally inside or on top of the Chevrolet at the moment of impact, yet reserving the issue of whether he was “in or upon” the vehicle for purposes of applying the Guest Statute,” she wrote.

Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred with Judge Melissa May’s holding, but wrote separately because she believed summary judgment was improper due to C.M.L. ex rel. Brabant v. Republic Services Inc., 800 N.E.2d 200 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), which also dealt with the Indiana Guest Statute.
 

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