The Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of Eric McGowen (“McGowen”) in a counterclaim filed by Bradley Montes (“Montes”) for injuries Montes suffered when he rear-ended McGowen’s semi-truck, which was stopped on a county road while McGowen was attempting to assist another motorist who had been involved in a prior car accident. The collision occurred on an early foggy morning in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. McGowen, driving under the speed limit due to poor visibility, stopped in the road when he noticed a heavily damaged truck in a ditch on the side of the road and a man, Ryan Patton (“Patton”), appearing drunk or injured. McGowen stopped in the road, with his brake lights illuminated, rolled down his window, and asked Patton if Patton wanted him to call 911. Patton asked McGowen to call 911. Within fifteen to thirty seconds from McGowen stopping in the road, Montes collided into the rear of McGowen’s semi-truck.
McGowen filed a motion for summary judgment asking the trial court to find that he was shielded from liability under Indiana’s Good Samaritan Law (“GSL”), Indiana Code § 34-30-12-1. The GSL states in pertinent part that “a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident… and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from (1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or (2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person; except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b). The trial court found that McGowen was rendering emergency care when the collision occurred but there was a genuine issue of material fact for the jury as to whether his stopping in the road was grossly negligent or willful or wanton misconduct. McGowen and Montes both appealed.
Montes argued on appeal that McGowen was not rendering “emergency care” and there was no emergency at the time of the collision. As a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that stopping and asking if a person who has been in an accident needs help is “emergency care,” reasoning that “emergency care” as outlined in the statutory language of the GSL encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment or first aid and includes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b)(2). As to whether an emergency existed, the Court relied upon previous precedent defining an “accident” as a “sudden calamitous event,” and held that McGowen coming upon the scene of an accident with a potentially injured person qualified as an emergency under the GSL.
McGowen argued on appeal that the trial court, while correct in finding the GSL applied, erred in finding an issue of fact as to whether he was grossly negligent or had engaged in willful or wanton misconduct. Gross negligence has been defined as a conscious, voluntary act or omission in reckless disregard of the consequences to another party. Willful and wanton misconduct arises when a person has knowledge of impending danger or consciousness of a course of misconduct calculated to result in probable injury and is indifferent to the consequences of his conduct. Montes argued McGowen’s actions of not pulling off the roadway, not activating his hazard lights, and violating various traffic regulations constituted gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct. The Court of Appeals disagreed and found as a matter of law that McGowen’s conduct did not rise to either standard. McGowen was driving slowly before the collision, stopped with his brake lights on, and checked his side mirrors for traffic behind him with the collision occurring within seconds of him stopping in the road. The Court found McGowen’s actions were at worse mere negligence and without a reckless disregard or indifference to the consequences of his conduct.
The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded the case to the trial court with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of McGowen against Montes.
You can read the full opinion here.