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COA reinstates personal injury suit against company, driver

December 9, 2016

A negligence case against an Indianapolis heating and air conditioning company will be reinstated after the Indiana Court of Appeals found that summary judgment in favor of the company was inappropriate.

In Thomas Hudgins and Sheila Hudgins v. Brian Bemish, Ideal Heating Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Inc., 49A02-1505-CT-384, Brian Bemish was formerly an employee of Ideal Heating Air Conditioning and Refrigeration, Inc., where he worked as an installer and was supplied with a company truck. When he was given the truck, Bemish signed a Vehicle Usage Policy that provided that he was not to use the truck for any personal business.

After completing a job in Valparaiso, Bemish drove back to Indianapolis. He was driving near 16th Street and Georgetown Road and collided with a line of vehicles stopped at a traffic light, causing a chain reaction that included Thomas Hudgins, who was on a motorcycle and was injured.

Bemish fled the scene but was involved in a second collision a few blocks down the road. He later admitted to police officers that he had been smoking the synthetic drug Spice. He was arrested and fired from his job with Ideal.

In September 2013, Thomas Hudgins and his wife, Sheila, filed a complaint against Bemish and Ideal, raising claims of negligence, loss of consortium and property damage. Specifically, the couple filed claims against Ideal based on respondeat superior and negligent hiring and training.

Ideal moved for summary judgment and the company’s president, David Dooderum, said in an affidavit that Bemish was driving the truck on his commute home after ending his work shift, thus acting outside the scope of his employment. Further, Ideal argued that it had no duty of care to the Hudginses because they were not patrons of the company.

In response, the Hudginses said summary judgment would be inappropriate because, among other things, there were issues of material fact as to whether Bemish was acting within the scope of his employment.

In April 2015, Marion Superior Court granted summary judgment in favor of Ideal. The Hudginses appealed, arguing that there remained genuine issues of material fact as to whether Bemish was acting within the scope of his employment and that Ideal did not demonstrate the absence of material fact on their negligent hiring/training claim.

In a Friday opinion reversing summary judgment, the Indiana Court of Appeals wrote that Dooderum’s testimony was in conflict with Bemish’s, who said that he believed he was acting within the scope of his employment when he caused the collision. Further, the company handbook required employees like Bemish to either drive their trucks to their personal property or return them to the shop at night. Based on those facts, the appellate court wrote that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment to Ideal because there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Bemish was within the scope of his employment.

Further, the appellate court wrote that Ideal’s assertion that the Hudginses would not be able to prove the necessary elements of the negligent hiring/training claim does not entitle it to summary judgment. Instead, the court wrote that Ideal must show that there is no issue of material fact as to whether they are entitled to judgment.

Because Ideal did not meet that burden, the Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in their favor and remanded the case for further proceedings.

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