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Indiana Supreme Court affirms rebuttal presumption for 7- to 14-year olds

December 9, 2009 Info Articles, Wrongful Death

Indiana wrongful death attorneys were pleased to hear of a unanimous ruling in favor of the plaintiff on November 30th in the case of Clay City Consolidated School Corp. v. Ronna Timberman and John Pipes II. With the recent ruling the Indiana State Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of the family of a boy who died during basketball practice.

Kodi Pipes had recently blacked out during practice and was not cleared by the doctor to participate. Kodi later participated in a running drill in which he collapsed and died. The family filed suit against Clay City schools alleging that the school was negligent under the Indiana Child Wrongful Death statute.

The trial court’s verdict found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded the Pipes family damages. The Indiana Court of Appeals later reversed the trial court’s ruling in the case and ordered a new trial, ruling that the trial court had erred by instructing the jury that Indiana law recognized a rebuttable presumption of law for 7- to 14-year olds. The rebuttable presumption in this case was that a minor between the ages of 7 to 14 years old cannot legally be held accountable for negligence, though this presumption can be challenged under certain circumstances. Had the jury found the boy negligent, the affirmative defense of contributory negligence would have barred any chance for recovery. In this case it is fortunate that the Indiana Supreme Court reaffirmed that Indiana does indeed recognize a rebuttable presumption for minors of this age and reversed the appellate court’s ruling.

Under Indiana law contributory negligence can serve as a complete bar to recovery in a tort claims act case. If a defendant is a medical provider or government institution (as in this case), a finding of contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff could prevent any and all recovery of damages. However, because the Supreme Court affirmed the rebuttable presumption for a minor, Kodi was found free of negligence. The appellate court ruling was overturned and the original trial court’s ruling was affirmed, allowing the Pipes family to recover damages.

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