COA: Bank had no duty to woman injured by drunken driver

An Indiana bank does not owe a duty of care to a woman who was injured by a drunken driver after the bank’s employees helped the driver change his tire without knowing that he had been drinking, the Indiana Court of Appeals found Thursday.

After employees of IAB Financial Bank helped Gabriel Biddle change a flat tire in the bank’s parking lot, they observed that Biddle was acting as if he had been drinking and called police to report a possible drunk driver. Later that same day, Biddle was involved in a traffic accident that injured Rachel Neal.

Neal sued the bank, alleging that she would not have been injured had the employees not helped Biddle change his tire and that the bank assumed a duty of care toward her. The Allen Superior Court granted summary judgment to the bank, finding that a party cannot be liable for a drunken driver causing injuries to a third party unless it furnished the alcohol, had a legal right to control the vehicle or had a special relationship with the other parts.

Neal appealed in Rachel Neal v. IAB Financial Bank, f/k/a Grabill Bank, 02A03-1604-CT-1002, arguing that “the Bank gratuitously assumed a duty when its employees acted to assist a visibly intoxicated Biddle to change his tire.” But under the three-part test set out in Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992, 995 (Ind. Ct. App. 1991), a unanimous panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that the bank did not owe a duty to Neal.

Under the first Webb factor, which is the relationship between the parties, Judge Melisa May noted that the bank employees had no special relationship with either Biddle or Neal and, further, did not create a special relationship by gratuitously assuming a duty. Thus, Neal’s claim fails under the first factor.

Additionally, May wrote that the lack of foreseeability of the incident, which is the second Webb factor, also harms Neal’s claim. It is not common for drunken drivers to seek help for flat tires at businesses in the middle of the day, May wrote, so it is “not reasonably foreseeable to a third person … who acts as a Good Samaritan, that a stranded motorist to whom they render aid will harm another motorist on the public roadway.”

Finally, May wrote that public policy considerations, the third factor, find in favor of the bank’s argument.

“Were we to impose a duty on all individuals to consider the potential risk of harm to third persons before helping motorists in peril, it would require those individuals to weigh their personal risk of exposure to liability to third persons injured by the motorist against the motorist’s need for assistance,” the judge wrote. “We refuse to impose such a duty.”

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