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In Griffin v. Menard, Inc., Walter Griffin and his wife (the “Griffins”) were shopping for a sink at Menards. When they found a sink they liked, Walter reached for the sink box on the shelf and when he did, the bottom of the box opened and the sink fell on him, resulting in injuries. The Griffins sued Menards for premises liability and loss of consortium. Menards filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it had no actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition of the sink box and therefore was not liable as a matter of law. The trial court granted summary judgment for Menards, and the Griffins appealed. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed, finding Menards had failed to show no genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether Menards had actual or constructive knowledge and whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applied.

Indiana law provides that landowners owe the highest duty of care to invitees to exercise reasonable care for their protection while they are on a landowner’s premises. However, landowners are only liable to invitees if they know or should know of an unreasonably dangerous condition, should expect that invitees will not discover the danger or will fail to protect themselves against it, and fail to exercise reasonable care to protect invitees against the danger. Landowners are not insurers of their invitee’s safety. Landowners must have actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition causing injury. Indiana law deems landowners to have constructive knowledge of dangerous conditions on their premises when those conditions have existed for a sufficient period of time that they would have been discovered in the exercise of ordinary care.

Res ispa loquitur means “the thing speaks for itself” and is a rule of evidence allowing an inference of negligence based upon the unusual circumstances of an injury. The main question as to application of the doctrine is whether the injury probably resulted from a defendant’s negligence as opposed to another cause. To obtain an inference of negligence under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, a plaintiff must show (1) the injuring instrumentality was within the exclusive management and control of the defendant, and (2) the incident would not have occurred unless those having exclusive management and control failed to exercise reasonable care.

We previously wrote about the Indiana Court of Appeals decision in Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. affirming a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a property owner finding the property owner owed no duty to the traveling public as a result of tall grass on its property. In Reece, Judy Reece (“Reece”), as wife and guardian of Walter Reece, sued Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. and Tyson Foods, Inc. (collectively “Tyson”) because tall grass on Tyson’s property impeded the view of a driver, Harold Moistner, who pulled out into an intersection causing a collision between himself and Walter Reece. Walter Reece suffered catastrophic brain injuries in the collision.

The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer in Reece and adopted a bright-line rule: landowners owe a duty to passing motorists on adjacent highways not to create hazardous conditions that visit themselves upon the roadway; but when a land use or condition that may impose a visual obstruction is wholly contained on a landowner’s property, there is no duty to the traveling public. Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., 173 N.E.3d 1031, 1034, 1041 (Ind. 2021).

In adopting this bright-line rule, the Indiana Supreme Court surveyed numerous prior landowner negligence cases. Factors noted in the prior cases included harms caused by conditions contained on land and those intruding upon the roadway, natural versus artificial conditions, and population density. As to its bright-line rule, the Court specifically noted that Indiana’s state and local legislatures could enact laws imposing different duties on landowners. The Court also noted that its decision did not apply to situations where a motorist comes in contact with a condition wholly contained on the land.

The Indiana Supreme Court recently reversed the Indiana Court of Appeals’ denial of a medical malpractice claimant’s request to amend her complaint to allege a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd, a federal law also known as the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (“EMTALA”). The claimant, Betty Miller, had sued various health-care providers under medical malpractice theories claiming her mentally ill grandson, Zachary Miller, should not have been released from Community Howard Regional Health Hospital’s (“Community Howard”) emergency room after he had arrived at Community Howard’s emergency room requesting admission for his mental illness and dangerous propensities. She later sought to amend her complaint to include an EMTALA claim.

EMTALA was enacted by Congress to deter hospitals from the practice “dumping” indigent patients. EMTALA provides that a hospital emergency department must screen individuals for “emergency medical condition[s]” and either stabilize the condition or transfer the patient as permitted under the law. However, relevant to the issue presented, any legal claim under the law must be brought no more than two years after the date of the violation.

Federal law can preempt state law either implicitly or explicitly when provisions of the federal and state laws are at odds. EMTALA contains an express preemption provision which provides that “this section does not preempt any State or local law requirement, except to the extent that requirement directly conflicts with a requirement of this section.” 42 U.S.C. § 1395dd(f). A year before Miller, in Williams v. Inglis, the Indiana Court of Appeals had held that EMTALA’s two-year statute of limitations preempted Indiana Trial Rule 15(C)’s provision allowing amendments to timely-filed complaints to relate back to the time the complaint was filed. In, other words, in Williams, the Court of Appeals had held that because EMTALA provided a claim had to be filed within two years after the violation, this conflicted with the otherwise liberal right to amend a complaint under Indiana law and refused to allow an amendment to relate back to add an EMTALA claim after the two years. And, the Indiana Supreme Court had refused to consider Williams’ request for review, so the Court of Appeals had simply followed its past precedent in Miller to deny the same request. Luckily for Miller, unlike in Williams, the Indiana Supreme Court agreed to accept her appeal of the issue in her petition to transfer.

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals recently found Michigan City immune from liability for a bicyclist’s injuries caused by a large pothole in a street. In Johnson v. City of Michigan City, Laura Johnson (“Johnson”) struck a large pothole in a street while riding her bicycle, which caused her to crash and suffer a tibial plateau fracture. Michigan City (“the City”) was responsible for maintaining the street. The City used a rating system to decide which streets to repair in any given year. The City’s engineering staff would decide which streets to repair based upon annual consulting reports that would evaluate 20% of the streets each year, with every street inspected every 5 years. The engineering staff would create a budget for resurfacing, the City would then contract with consultants to plan the projects, and the City’s Board of Works would approve individual projects for bidding. The engineering staff would also keep track of citizen complaints and consider them along with the street inspections in prioritizing street repairs. The City’s process for responding to complaints about individual potholes entailed the City’s Street Department receiving the complaint, preparing a work order, and then sending a crew to patch the pothole.

Prior to the accident in this case, the City had already decided the subject street needed to be resurfaced. The Board of Works had already approved the project for bidding, which was in process at the time of Johnson’s crash. In the month prior to Johnson’s crash, the City had also received two complaints about the street, one from a member of the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners describing the street as being in “dire shape,” and another complaint indicating the street had a “severe pothole problem,” which was causing cars to weave across lanes to avoid the potholes. The street was eventually resurfaced around 5-6 months after Johnson’s crash.

Johnson sued the City for negligence in causing her injuries. The City filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was immune from liability under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which grants immunity to governmental entities under some circumstances, including “[t]he performance of a discretionary function.” Indiana law distinguishes between planning and operational functions. Planning functions, which are afforded immunity, are “acts or omissions in the exercise of a legislative, judicial, or executive or planning function that involve formulation of basic policy decisions characterized by official judgment or discretion in weighing alternatives and choosing public policy.” Operational functions, such as the “execution or implementation of already formulated policy,” are not discretionary and are not afforded immunity. The purpose of governmental discretionary function immunity for planning and policy-making activities is to allow governments freedom to deal with difficult policy issues without the prospect of liability.

A divided Indiana Court of Appeals recently revived a defendant’s counterclaim for personal injuries sustained in an Indiana car accident case despite the defendant’s failure to assert his counterclaim in his answer. In Pumphrey v. Jones, Melody Jones (Jones) and William Pumphrey III (Pumphrey) were involved in a car accident while Pumphrey was delivering pizzas for RPM Pizza Midwest, LLC d/b/a Domino’s Pizza (Domino’s). Within months of the collision, Jones sued Pumphrey and Domino’s. A third-party administrator for Domino’s hired defense counsel to defend Pumphrey and Domino’s. Defense counsel entered an appearance for Pumphrey and Domino’s, informed Pumphrey of the representation, and scheduled a meeting with Pumphrey. However, for an unknown reason, Pumphrey did not attend the meeting. After several failed attempts to contact Pumphrey, defense counsel went ahead and filed an answer on behalf of Pumphrey and Domino’s. No counterclaims were raised in the answer; however, the answer did raise affirmative defenses as to Plaintiff’s own fault in causing the collision.

The parties thereafter engaged in some discovery, including defense counsel taking Jones’ deposition. However, discovery responses on behalf of Pumphrey were delayed because defense counsel was unable to locate Pumphrey. Almost two years after the collision, an associate with defense counsel’s firm discovered that Pumphrey was employed at a different Domino’s store. The associate spoke with Pumphrey and obtained his new contact information, which was different than what defense counsel had been using. Other than defense counsel’s initial contact with Pumphrey, Pumphrey had not received any of defense counsel’s other communications. When the associate spoke and subsequently met with Pumphrey, Pumphrey disputed the police report, supplied the contact information of a potential witness, assisted the associate in providing discovery responses, and indicated he was still treating as a result of injuries he sustained in the collision and wanted to assert a claim for his own personal injuries from the accident.

After providing discovery responses on behalf of Pumphrey, defense counsel obtained authority from Domino’s to represent Pumphrey in his individual counterclaim. One year and nine months after Jones filed her complaint, and right before the statute of limitations, defense counsel filed a motion to amend Pumphrey’s answer to assert the counterclaim. Prior to the trial court ruling on Pumphrey’s motion to amend and with the statute of limitations looming, defense counsel went ahead and filed the counterclaim, to which Jones objected. After the trial court denied the motion to amend but before Pumphrey received notice of the denial, Pumphrey filed a reply to Jones’ objection. Pumphrey then requested the trial court reconsider its order, but the trial court again denied the motion to amend. Pumphrey thereafter appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently found in favor of a grocery store landlord in a premise liability claim for personal injuries arising out of a vehicle-pedestrian collision in a grocery store parking lot. In Poppe v. Angell Enterprises, Inc., Paul Poppe and Susan Poppe were struck by an intoxicated driver and injured as they exited a grocery store. When they exited the store, the Poppes walked through a marked crosswalk to reach their vehicle, which was parked in a handicapped parking spot. As they were walking, they saw a quickly approaching truck and tried to run to get out of the way; however, the truck pinned them against their vehicle. Angell Enterprises, Inc. (“Angell”) was the landlord of the grocery store and responsible for maintaining the grocery store parking lot. In their injury lawsuit filed against Angell and other parties, the Poppes alleged that Angell was liable in part for their injuries by the condition of the parking lot in “the funneling of pedestrian and vehicular traffic” into the crosswalk without “protective features” such as “bollards,” which are protective posts often used in areas with vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

At the time of the appeal in this case, Angell was the sole remaining defendant. To succeed in their claim against Angell, the Poppes were required to prove (1) Angell owed them a duty of care, (2) Angell breached that duty, and (3) Angell’s breach proximately caused their injuries. Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to decide, and absent a duty, there can be no breach and therefore no liability. Angell moved for summary judgment in court arguing that it owed the Poppes no duty and therefore was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. After a hearing, the trial court entered summary judgment in favor of Angell, and the Poppes appealed.

To decide whether Angell owed the Poppes a duty, the Indiana Court of Appeals was first required to decide whether to apply the landowner liability analytical framework in Burrell v. Meads (based upon Restatement (Second) of Torts Section 343) that applies when injuries result from a condition on land, or the analytical framework in Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc. that applies when injuries result from the criminal acts of a third person. The Burrell analysis provides that a landowner is responsible for injuries to invitees resulting from a condition on land but only if the landowner knew, or should have known, of the condition and that it involved an unreasonable danger of harm, if the landowner should have expected its invitees would not realize the danger or protect themselves against it, and if the landowner failed to exercise reasonable care to protect its invitees. The Goodwin foreseeability analysis of duty in the case of criminal acts of third parties causing injuries focuses on the “broad type of plaintiff and harm involved, without regard to the facts of the actual occurrence,” and turns on “whether there is some probability or likelihood of harm that is serious enough to induce a reasonable person to take precautions to avoid it.”

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently directed a trial court to dismiss a particular theory of liability pursued by a medical malpractice plaintiff after completion of the medical review panel process because the plaintiff’s proposed complaint did not encompass the theory. In Holsten v. Faur, Linda Holsten (“Holsten”) filed a medical malpractice and wrongful death lawsuit arising out of medical care her husband, Paul Holsten (“Paul”), received at an urgent care facility and hospital. Under Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act, medical malpractice claimants must file a proposed complaint before the Indiana Department of Insurance and obtain an opinion from a medical review panel before they can prosecute their medical malpractice claims in court.

Holsten filed a proposed complaint specifically alleging the defendants committed malpractice in not ordering a chest x-ray (“the x-ray malpractice theory”) and in ordering steroids (“the steroid malpractice theory”), which she alleged resulted in her husband’s death of necrotizing staphylococcus aureus pneumonia. The medical review panel formed to review the case found the defendants failed to comply with the appropriate standard of care; however, they were unable to determine if the defendants’ conduct was a factor in Paul’s death. After receiving the opinion and speaking with the panelists, Holsten filed a state court complaint that was identical in pertinent parts to her proposed complaint, except that she removed the steroid malpractice theory and added another theory which she learned from one of the panelists, that is, that the hospital’s sepsis protocol was not followed (“the sepsis malpractice theory”).

The hospital filed for partial summary judgment arguing that Holsten’s sepsis malpractice theory had not been presented to the medical review panel as required by the Medical Malpractice Act. The trial court agreed with the hospital and entered partial summary judgment in favor of the hospital as to the sepsis malpractice theory. Agreeing that Holsten had failed to present the sepsis malpractice theory to the panel, but that the trial court did not, therefore, have subject matter jurisdiction as to that theory, the Indiana Court of Appeals vacated the trial court’s summary judgment order and remanded the case with instructions for the trial court to dismiss, without prejudice, Holsten’s sepsis malpractice theory of liability.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently found in favor of an insurance carrier with regards to its handling of an underinsured claim in a construction zone truck accident case. In Brandell v. Secura Ins., Christopher Brandell (“Brandell”) was working construction on an Indiana interstate adjusting traffic control devices when he was hit by a truck, resulting in severe injuries. Brandell pursued various claims arising from the truck collision, including an underinsured claim against Secura Insurance (“Secura”), which provided underinsured coverage through a commercial auto policy issued to Brandell’s employer. Under Secura’s insurance policy, Brandell had to be “occupying” a covered vehicle, with the policy defining “occupying” as “in, upon, getting in, on, out or off.”

Secura denied Brandell underinsured coverage positing he was not insured under the policy, as he was not occupying a vehicle at the time of the collision. The police report from the collision identified Brandell as a pedestrian. The worker’s compensation first report of injury indicated Brandell was adjusting traffic control devices in a work zone when he was struck. Brandell took issue with Secura’s underinsured coverage determination and provided Secura with notice that Brandell was operating a covered auto with another employee as a passenger. Brandell was driving the company vehicle between traffic barrels, stopping, moving the barrels, and then getting back into the vehicle to drive forward a short distance to move the next barrels before he was struck by the truck. After receiving this information, Secura retained counsel to investigate coverage, but before any additional determination was made, Brandell filed a lawsuit against Secura for underinsured coverage (which Sescura eventually provided in accepting and settling the claim) and for bad faith arising from Secura’s handling of Brandell’s underinsured claim. Secura filed a motion for summary judgment as to Brandell’s bad faith claim, which the trial court granted, and Brandell appealed.

In Indiana all insurance companies must act in good faith with their insureds. To prove bad faith by an insurance company, an insured plaintiff must show the insurer (1) made an unfounded refusal to pay policy proceeds, (2) caused an unfounded delay in making payment, (3) deceived the insured, or (4) exercised an unfair advantage over the insured to pressure the insured into settling a claim. Proving negligence or bad judgment will not suffice; there must be a showing of conscious wrongdoing. In order to prove bad faith, a plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that an insurance carrier had knowledge that there was no legitimate basis for denying liability.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion allowing a deceased woman’s estate to move forward in a wrongful death lawsuit arising from the operation of a county 911 system. In Howard Cty. Sheriff’s Dep’t & Howard Cty. 911 Commc’ns v. Duke, Tammy Lynn Ford (“Ford”) called the Howard County 911 Dispatch from her cell phone, provided her address, and reported she could not breathe. According to the County’s standard operating procedures, dispatchers were supposed to verify a caller’s location and manually enter it into the computer. The two dispatchers who took Ford’s call did not correctly enter her address into the computer or verify her address, and as a result, medics were dispatched to the wrong address. Once medics finally arrived at the correct address, Ford had no pulse. She was subsequently pronounced dead at the hospital.

Derrick Duke and Dustin Duke, as co-personal representatives of the Estate of Tammy Lynn Ford (the “Ford Estate”), filed a lawsuit against the County alleging the County’s 911 delay caused Ford’s death and the County’s actions amounted to willful and wanton misconduct. Under Indiana law, governmental entities have immunity for losses resulting from the use of a 911 system, except to the extent of willful or wanton misconduct. Willful or wanton misconduct includes an intentional act done with reckless disregard of the natural and probable consequence of injury to a known person under circumstances known to the actor at the time, or an omission or failure to act when the actor has knowledge of the natural and probable consequence of injury and the actor’s opportunity to avoid the risk. To prove willful and wanton misconduct, a plaintiff must show (1) the defendant had knowledge of an impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury, and (2) the defendant’s conduct exhibited an indifference to the consequences of the defendant’s conduct. Typically, whether a defendant engaged in willful and wanton misconduct is a question of fact for the trier of fact to decide (e.g., a jury). However, in this case, the County filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the trial court should find as a matter of law that it did not engage in willful and wanton misconduct, and as such, was entitled to the 911 immunity. The trial court denied the County’s motion and the County appealed.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted that to succeed in its motion for summary judgment, the County was required to show that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether it engaged in willful and wanton misconduct. The County argued its dispatchers’ actions were not willful and wanton, but merely a simple mistake. However, the Ford Estate designated evidence in response showing that there had been prior reported problems with the 911 dispatch reported by the Kokomo Police Department and the Kokomo Fire Department and the dispatchers’ failure played a “big role” in Ford’s death. As such, the Indiana Court of Appeals found there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the County engaged in willful and wanton misconduct and the County was not entitled to the 911 immunity as a matter of law. The Court affirmed the trial court’s order denying the County’s motion and remanded the case for further proceedings.

We previously blogged about the Seventh Circuit’s certified question to the Indiana Supreme Court: “Whether Indiana’s Medical Malpractice Act applies to claims brought against qualified providers for individuals who did not receive medical care from the provider, but who are injured as a result of the provider’s negligence in providing medical treatment to someone else?” In Cutchin v. Beard, the Indiana Supreme Court answered this question in the affirmative.

The Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund will often take the position in claims for excess compensation that the Medical Malpractice Act does not apply when it would mean escaping liability for otherwise viable claims. In Cutchin, the Fund secured a dismissal of the excess damages claim brought against it by Jeffrey Cutchin. Cutchin had settled a malpractice claim with a qualified medical provider who had negligently prescribed opiates and other medications to Sylvian Watson. Watson had run a red light and killed Cutchin’s wife and daughter. Watson claimed she could not lift her foot from the accelerator in time to stop her vehicle due to the opiates and other medications prescribed by the provider. Despite the settlement, the Fund sought to avoid paying excess damages. Upon appeal of the federal district court’s ruling, the Seventh Circuit certified the above question, as well as another that went unanswered.

In arriving at its decision, the Indiana Supreme Court first addressed the Act’s definition of “patient” found in Indiana Code Section 34-18-2-22: “an individual who receives or should have received health care from a health care provider, under a contract, express or implied, and includes a person having a claim of any kind, whether derivative or otherwise, as a result of alleged malpractice on the part of a health care provider. Derivative claims include the claims of a parent or parents, guardian, trustee, child, relative, attorney, or any other representative of the patient including claims for loss of services, loss of consortium, expenses, and other similar claims.” The Court found this definition creates two categories of “patient” under the Act: the first is the traditional patient who receives care by a provider; the second is a third party whose claim results from a provider’s medical malpractice to a traditional patient.

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