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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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