IN Supreme Court holds that bar shooting was not foreseeable

After deciding that foreseeability in the context of duty in a negligence case is different than in the context of proximate cause, the Indiana Supreme Court held Wednesday that a Grant County bar was not negligent in a shooting that injured three people because the shooting was not foreseeable.

In August of 2010, April Goodwin, Tiffany Randolph and Javon Washington were together with friends at Yeakle’s Bar and Grill in Marion. Sitting nearby was Rodney Carter and his wife. At some point, Carter thought he heard Washington make a derogatory comment about Carter’s wife, so Carter pulled out a handgun and fired at Washington, striking Washington, Goodwin and Randolph.

All three victims survived, and Carter pleaded guilty to three counts of battery with a deadly weapon. However, the trio of victims also sued the bar for damages, alleging negligence. The bar moved for summary judgment, arguing that Carter’s actions were unforeseeable, and the Grant Superior Court granted the bar’s motion. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, writing that “reasonable foreseeability is not part of the analysis with respect to the Bar’s duty” and also noted that the issue “has created confusion at every level of our judiciary.”

Writing for the high court in a Wednesday opinion, Justice Robert Rucker agreed that caselaw surrounding the issue of duty in the context of a negligence claim “has been less than perfectly lucid,” particularly because, in most negligence cases, foreseeability is a component of proximate causation only.

“But in the case before us, foreseeability is not only a component of the proximate cause element of negligence, it is also a component of the duty element of negligence, as well,” Rucker wrote. ”And … whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to decide.”

Rucker pointed to the case of Goldsberry v. Grubbs, 672 N.E.2d 475 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996), which held that the foreseeability component of a duty analysis must be lesser than the foreseeability component of proximate cause, because if the components were equal, the proximate cause element of negligence would be unnecessary. Rucker wrote Wednesday that the court was choosing to adopt the Goldsberrry case as the most accurate framework for assessing foreseeability in the duty of context.

When determining foreseeability in the duty of context, Rucker wrote that the court must assess whether the likelihood that someone may be harmed is serious enough that the situation would prompt a reasonable person to take action to avoid the situation.  

Looking at the case of the Marion bar shooting, the justice pointed to testimony that stated the bar was considered safe, that there had never been a shooting at the bar, that no one had ever seen a gun at the bar and that Carter had a reputation as a jokester, not a fighter.

Based on those facts, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the bar could not have anticipated that a patron would be armed. The justices, therefore, unanimously affirmed summary judgment in favor of the bar.

The case is April Goodwin, Tiffany Randolph and Javon Washington v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar and Grill, Inc., 27S02-1510-CT-627.

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