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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. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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