COA affirms South Dakota law applies to personal injury case

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A Marion Superior Court did not err when it decided that the location of an accident involving a drowsy driver – South Dakota – should be the applicable law in a case brought in Indiana.

Randall Manson sued his friend Mark Keglovits after Manson was injured in an auto accident caused by Keglovits falling asleep while driving. The truck left the roadway and rolled over. Manson, Keglovits and his wife, Patricia Keglovits, were driving from Indianapolis to Sturgis, South Dakota, for a motorcycle rally in August 2010. Keglovits and his wife claim they asked Manson to ride with them to help keep Keglovits awake while he drove.

Keglovits, in his answer to Manson’s lawsuit, claimed that South Dakota law applies and Manson was contributorily negligent under that state’s law. The trial court held South Dakota law applies and denied Manson’s motion for summary judgment as to whether he was contributorily negligent under South Dakota law. The two states have different approaches regarding laws that may affect the outcome of this case. Indiana has adopted the Comparative Fault Act, which rejects the common law doctrine of contributory negligence as a complete bar to recovery in negligence cases.

Under South Dakota law, when a plaintiff is contributorily negligent, the plaintiff may still recover damages if that negligence was slight in comparison with the negligence of the defendant. That state’s Supreme Court has held that a guest in a car may have a duty to warn a driver of a danger and failure to do so constitutes contributory negligence if the passenger sees a danger not obvious to the driver or sees the driver is careless.

The judges affirmed the trial court’s decision on interlocutory appeal.  

“While Manson was asleep at the time of the accident and Mark was aware of this, the evidence most favorable to the nonmoving party, which a reasonable jury may find to be true, is that Manson was aware that Mark was not taking proper precautions in light of the number of hours he had driven with no sleep, and that Manson had agreed to help Mark stay awake. Keeping in mind that the point at which a duty of a passenger arises is largely a factual question, we conclude that the jury should determine whether or not Manson was exercising the care required of an ordinarily prudent person under all of the circumstances presented,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote in Randall Manson v. Mark L. Keglovits, 49A02-1403-CT-145.  

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