Son’s suit against father not barred by Indiana Guest Statute

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A divided Indiana Supreme Court has found that a lawsuit filed by a son after his father hit him with his car while the son tried to help his father park isn’t barred by Indiana’s Guest Statute.

Robert Clark Jr. was a passenger in his father’s car when he exited the car and walked in front of a parking space to help his father navigate into it. Robert Clark Sr. accidently hit the accelerator instead of the brake when Clark Jr. signaled for his father to stop, pinning Clark Jr. between the car and another vehicle. The son suffered significant leg injuries, leading to a lawsuit filed by Clark Jr. and his wife for negligence.

The father asserted the Indiana Guest Statute as an affirmative defense, and both parties sought summary judgment on the issue. The trial court ruled in favor of the father. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, although the judges were divided in their decision.

The Indiana justices were also split, with a 3-2 majority holding that the statute does not bar the son’s lawsuit. The high court took the case to resolve the conflict of authority, citing C.M.L. ex rel. Brabant v. Republic Servs. Inc., 800 N.E.2d 200 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), and KLLM Inc. v. Legg (826 N.E.2d 136 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

The statute spells out when an owner, operator, or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle is not liable for loss or damage arising from certain people’s injuries or death resulting from the operation of the vehicle. The statute applies when specific relatives or a hitchhiker is being transported without payment “in or upon the motor vehicle” unless the injuries or death are caused by wanton misconduct.

The father claimed in the statute “upon” means “as long as the guest has a sufficient relationship to the vehicle, the guest is upon the vehicle for purposes of the statute.”

Chief Justice Brent Dickson and Justices Robert Rucker and Steven David found the Guest Statute to be unambiguous. “Upon” should be given its literal meaning, which connotes a physical connection or contact with the vehicle, Dickson wrote.

“Thus, if the injury is sustained at a time when a passenger is in mere physical contact with the motor vehicle but standing outside of or off of it or at a time when the passenger is not being ‘transported’ by the vehicle, then the Indiana Guest Statute does not bar a passenger's damage action against the driver,” he wrote.

The majority ordered the trial court deny the father’s motion for summary judgment and grant it in favor of Clark Jr.

Justices Frank Sullivan and Mark Massa dissented because they would affirm the trial court’s judgment. They believed the analysis of KLLM and the dissent of Chief Judge Margret Robb in this case are correct.



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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.