Statute of limitations squashes lawsuit against Vanderburgh County officials

A motorcyclist who sought damages for injuries he sustained while being detained in the Vanderburgh County Jail lost his appeal of his lawsuit, which the trial court tossed for not giving notice of the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expired.  

Charles Brown was arrested by Evansville City Police officers for operating a vehicle while intoxicated. He was held in the Vanderburgh County Detention Center for about five days until his release July 30, 2014.

On Jan. 20, 2015, Brown mailed a tort claim notice to the Vanderburgh County Sheriff Department, Sheriff Dave Weddings, Vanderburgh County Commissioners, the Indiana Political Subdivision Risk Management Commission and the Indiana attorney general. He claimed he suffered injuries and damages while in detention because of the sheriff department’s misconduct and failure to provide medical care.

A year later, Brown filed a complaint for damages against the city of Evansville and unnamed police officers. On Aug. 8, 2016, Brown filed a motion to amend his complaint, stating he had identified the wrong parties in the initial complaint and wanted to change the defendants to VCSD and Vanderburgh County.  

Although Brown was allowed to amend his complaint, Vanderburgh Superior Court granted the motion to dismiss filed by the sheriff’s department and the county. The defendants argued Brown’s amended complaint was filed after the expiration of the two-year statute of limitations.

On appeal, Brown contended his amended complaint should relate back to the date of his original complaint pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 15 (C). However, the sheriff’s department and the county asserted that Brown failed to show that they knew or should have known the action should have been brought against them.

The Indiana Court of Appeals did not have to consider those arguments since Brown did not show that VCSD and the County had noticed of his lawsuit prior to the statute of limitations deadline.

“As found by the trial court, there is no basis to impute knowledge of the filing of Brown’s original complaint to VCSD and the County because there is no evidence that they shared the same attorney or law firm as the City, and although they ‘undoubtedly work closely in law enforcement … it would be pure speculation to assume that [VCSD] or the County learned of the lawsuit from the City,’” Judge Terry Crone wrote, quoting from the appellant’s brief. “The record is devoid of any evidence suggesting the VCSD and the County had notice of Brown’s lawsuit as required by Trial Rule 15(C)(1).”  

The case is Charles Brown v. Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Department and Vanderburgh County, Indiana, 82A04-1705-CT-1087.

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