Mom may be liable for daughter's accident

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The Indiana Court of Appeals judges agreed that a mother may possibly be liable for her daughter’s accident in which she struck a pedestrian with her car after drinking and talking on her cell phone at the time of the accident. The judges didn’t completely agree as to why the mother may be liable.

In Jerry Coleman Buchanan, by his father and guardian, Odell Buchanan v. Candice L. Vowell, Shannon Vowell, et al., No. 49A02-0909-CV-873, Jerry Buchanan sued Shannon Vowell for damages after her daughter, Candice, hit him while driving under the influence and while talking on her cell phone to her mother. Candice and Shannon left work at Brad’s Gold Club, where Candice drank the alcohol. Shannon followed Candice home in her own car and called Candice on the phone before the accident.

Buchanan suffered permanent brain damage and fractures from the accident. He alleged that Shannon knew Candice was intoxicated and should have known talking to her on the cell phone would further impair or distract Candice. He claimed she was liable under Restatement (Second) of Torts Sections 324A and 319. The trial court granted Shannon’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted.

On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, but disagreed as to which Restatement (Second) of Torts applied. Senior Judge Betty Barteau and Judge Patricia Riley found Restatement (Second) of Torts Sections 324A, 315, and 876 to be relevant. The Court of Appeals has held as a general rule that under the gratuitous undertaking concept defined in Section 324A, someone other than a driver isn’t liable for damages caused by the negligent acts of the driver unless that person has a special relationship that gives him the right to control the vehicle. In this case, Shannon didn’t try to stop her daughter from driving but assisted her by letting her drive and then trying to give her directions over the phone, noted Senior Judge Barteau. In addition, other jurisdictions have held that gratuitous undertakings concerning drivers may result in liability to someone other than the person who injured the party.

The majority also cited Illinois cases that addressed this issue under Section 876, which provides a person is liable for tortious conduct if he or she does a tortious act in concert with the other person. The judges ruled that Shannon agreed to enter into a concerted activity whereby she would follow her drunken daughter and distract or direct her by talking to her on the phone.

“Furthermore, we note that Shannon owed a duty of reasonable care to those that shared the road with her, both motorists and pedestrians,” wrote Senior Judge Barteau. “Shannon, as an individual, may have breached this duty by calling and distracting a person she knew was operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol.”

Judge Nancy Vaidik, in a separate concurring-in-result opinion, believed that only Section 876 applied.

“Given our duty to review a ruling on a motion to dismiss by looking at the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-movant with every reasonable inference construed in the non-movant’s favor, I believe that under these allegations, Shannon could conceivably be liable for aiding or encouraging Candice’s driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident,” she wrote.

Judge Vaidik also disagreed with the majority’s comments about the cell phone conversation. She didn’t believe merely calling someone on the phone knowing the person is driving and intoxicated constitutes a tortious act on its own.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.