Negligence suit from bicyclist hit by officer’s car remanded for trial

A negligence case against the town of Chesterton and the Porter County Drug Task Force must proceed to trial after the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the plaintiff who brought the case was contributorily negligent in the bicycle-vehicle accident.

In July 2014, Sara Ritz — a Chesterton Police Department detective and member of the Porter County Drug Task Force — was conducting an investigation in Portage when she struck Sheila Gonzalez, who was riding her bike across Lute Road with her children, Vanessa and Carter. Both children later testified that Ritz was driving faster than other cars they had seen on the road, while Gonzalez testified that it was her practice to stop at all intersections and look both ways before crossing.

Gonzalez and her husband, Rod, sued Ritz, the task force and the Town of Chesterton for negligence in February 2016, and the town and task force moved for summary judgment in the spring and summer of 2017. The Porter Superior Court granted the summary judgment motion, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that ruling on Monday.

Judge Cale Bradford wrote for the unanimous appellate panel that the designated evidence would permit a finding that Gonzalez was not contributorily negligent in the accident. Bradford pointed to testimony from Gonzalez and her children that Lute Road was clear and that Gonzalez came to a complete stop and assessed the road before deciding to cross.

“As for why Sheila might not have seen Ritz’s vehicle or, perhaps, saw it but underestimated the threat it posed, Carter testified that Ritz’s vehicle was traveling faster than the other traffic on the road and Vanessa testified that Ritz was driving too fast,” Bradford wrote. “A factfinder could possibly conclude from the above that Sheila complied with the standard or ordinary care but nevertheless failed to see the approaching Ritz, and/or incorrectly concluded that her fast-moving vehicle was too far way to pose a threat.”

The appellees raised multiple arguments on appeal, including the assertion that Lute Road was, in fact, not clear when Gonzalez began to cross. But at this stage of the litigation, Bradford said the court was tasked only with determining if a genuine issue of material fact exists.

Having concluded that issue does exist, the case of Sheila Gonzalez and Rod Gonzalez v. Sara Ritz, Northern Indiana Public Service Company, Porter County Drug Task Force, and Town of Chesterton, 64A04-1712-CT-2850, was remanded for trial.


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