COA: Good Samaritan Law shields trucker who stopped on foggy road to call 911

The Indiana Court of Appeals has partially reversed the denial of summary judgment to a truck driver involved in a car accident after finding both he and his employer are entitled to protection under the Good Samaritan Law.

While driving through heavy fog in the early morning hours, Eric McGowen came to a stop on the two-lane county road he was driving on to check on a damaged vehicle in a nearby ditch. McGowen, who was driving his employer’s semi-tractor, had his foot on the brake of his semi and had not completely put the vehicle in park.

As McGowen asked if the driver needed someone to call 911, Bradley Montes drove up behind McGowen on the road and, without braking, crashed into the back of the semi. Both McGowen and Montes were injured as a result, and each in turn sued the other for negligence. Montes also sued McGowen’s employer, Vision Logistics, as a third-party defendant, alleging McGowen had been working for Vision at the time of the collision.

The Tippecanoe Superior Court later ruled on McGowen and Montes’ cross-motions for summary judgment, determining that while there was no dispute of material fact that McGowen was rendering emergency care for purposes of the Good Samaritan Law when he stopped and offered to call 911, a dispute of material fact existed as to whether McGowen’s act in stopping on the road amounted to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct, for purposes of the GSL.

Thus, the trial court granted in part and denied in part McGowen’s and Vision’s motion for summary judgment, and denied Montes’ cross-motion for partial summary judgment. It later granted a motion for interlocutory review, which the Indiana Court of Appeals accepted in the case of Eric McGowen, et al. v. Bradley Montes, 19A-CT-01707.

The appellate court affirmed in part and reversed in part, first disagreeing with Montes and amicus curiae Indiana Trial Lawyers Association’s argument that the GSL statute in its entirety encompasses only medical care or first aid.

“We conclude from the unambiguous language of the GSL that stopping and asking if a person who has been involved in an accident needs help is ‘emergency care,’” Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander wrote for the appellate court.

It further found that the scene of the vehicle collision qualified as an emergency for purposes of the GSL, and thus, the denial of Montes’ motion for partial summary judgment was not an error.

Additionally, the appellate court disagreed with Montes’ assertion that there are several material disputes of fact that justify the trial court’s partial denial of McGowen’s and Vision’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of gross negligence. Rather, it concluded the opposite.

On the issue of willful and wanton conduct, the appellate court concluded that the undisputed facts demonstrated McGowen was aware of dangerous road conditions and attempted to drive carefully while rendering aid to the vehicle’s driver.

Thus, the appellate court concluded his conduct did not meet the standard of willful or wanton misconduct and the trial court ultimately erred in denying in part McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment because they are entitled to the protection of the Good Samaritan Law.

It therefore affirmed the judgment of the trial court in part, reversed in part, and remanded with instructions to grant McGowen and Vision’s motion for summary judgment.

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