Justices reject wrongful death claims against IPS in student’s murder

The estate of a murdered teenage boy could not convince the Indiana Supreme Court that his school was negligent for his death. Instead, justices found the estate’s claims to be barred under contributory negligence law.

Then-16-year-old Jaylan Murray was murdered, and his body found at an apartment complex across the street from Indianapolis’ Arlington Community High School, where he was a student. Jaylan died on the same day he left school grounds without signing out at the front desk and without Arlington’s knowledge. The school was aware that Jaylan was a frequent runaway and had an active Department of Child Services case file.

Jaylan’s co-personal representatives filed a wrongful death suit against Indianapolis Public Schools and Arlington, alleging the defendants were negligent for failing to properly supervise and monitor students during school hours.

The Marion Superior Court initially granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, but the Indiana Court of Appeals reinstated the case when it found genuine issues of material fact as to Arlington’s duty to supervise its students. In an appeal to the Supreme Court on grant of transfer, Arlington argued, among other things, that the COA was incorrect in finding the public school corporation was not entitled to immunity under the Indiana Tort Claims Act for Jaylan’s wrongful death.

Supreme Court justices in a Thursday order affirmed the trial court in Katrina Murray, et al. v. Arlington Community High School, et al., 19S-CT-282.

“Here, Jaylan was sixteen. While his estate argues that the specific reason for Jaylan’s departure from school is unknown, no one contends there are any special circumstances that would render Jaylan incapable of exercising this standard of care. Thus, he is charged with exercising the reasonable care an adult would,” Justice Steven David wrote for the unanimous court.

Justices additionally noted there was no dispute that Jaylan was involved in criminal activity the night before his murder, that he left school property to engage in some criminal act, and that he was found with a large amount of money in an apartment complex known for criminal activity.

“In either case, it is clear that his leaving school to purchase either guns or drugs was not an exercise of reasonable care and caution for his safety. While a sixteen-year-old may not know all the perils that await him off of school grounds, he certainly knew there was danger in either of those two ventures. As such, Jaylan was contributorily negligent,” the high court wrote. “To be clear, while Jaylan may not be solely or even primarily responsible for what happened, his negligence was at least a slight cause of the unfortunate harm he suffered.”

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