Injured man fails to convince COA he was mentally incompetent

June 2, 2015

A split Indiana Court of Appeals found that affidavits from an injured man’s family members as to his mental competency were not sufficient to overcome his failure to file a complaint before the statute of limitations had expired.

Charles Whitlock was struck in the face by a crane while working at Steel Dynamics in Hendricks County. He was treated at Hendricks Regional Health and Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis where he was found to be alert and oriented. He had no bleeding in the brain or fractures, and he scored at the highest level on the Glasgow Coma Scale.

Eight days after the two-year-statute of limitations expired, Whitlock filed a complaint against Steel Dynamics, alleging the company was responsible for the accident that caused his injuries.

The Hendricks Superior Court dismissed the complaint and the Court of Appeals affirmed in Charles R. Whitlock v. Steel Dynamics, Inc., 32A05-1404-CT-189.

Whitlock argued that the affidavits from his wife and mother-in-law showed that for nine days after his injury, he was incompetent and, therefore, should be allowed extra time to file his complaint.

Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, writing for the majority, held that Whitlock’s designated evidence did not rise to the level necessary to avoid summary judgment.

The majority pointed out Whitlock was not diagnosed with any fractures or brain injury after his accident. He was not admitted for further care and he did not seek additional professional medical help.

Statements from his wife and mother-in-law about his physical limitations, forgetfulness and disorientation following the accident did not include specific details.

“Since these opinions addressed the central issue of Whitlock’s mental competence, greater detail was required,” Vaidik wrote. “In other words, the affiants – rather than merely setting forth conclusory statements – were required to give specific details which they perceived to be the basis for their conclusions that Whitlock was mentally incompetent. Instead, their opinions were only one step removed from simply saying that Whitlock was mentally incompetent. More is required under Evidence Rule 701.”   

Judge Melissa May dissented, arguing the affidavits from Whitlock’s wife and mother-in-law were sufficient to create a question of fact for the jury. She contended the affidavits did contain specific details and factual assertions about Whitlock’s physical and mental limitations following his injury.

“After listing those factual assertions, the majority hold they ‘do not create a genuine issue of material fact’ about his mental competence,” May wrote. “Those facts alone may not create a genuine issue of material fact about Whitlock’s mental competence, but I would characterize that evidence about his physical and mental limitations as relevant to the opinions given about his mental competence. … For these reasons, I believe the affidavits were admissible under Evidence Rule 701.”



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