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Updated May 29, 2019
Have you ever been stopped in traffic and motioned another vehicle onto the roadway? What would happen if that vehicle was involved in an accident? Would you be held liable for injuries sustained in the accident?
Those questions were asked to the Indiana Court of Appeals in Jacob Key, Ted J. Brown and Sally A. Brown v. Dewayne Hamilton. The court was asked to review whether a driver who signals another driver to proceed onto a roadway is liable for injuries sustained by a third party.
Jacob Key, a truck driver employed by Ted and Sally Brown, was traveling southbound on Indiana State Road 9 when he approached a line of cars stopped at a stoplight. Key stopped, allowing enough space for John Owens to make a left turn in front of him from a perpendicular street. Key got out of his truck, looked behind him, and gave an “all-clear” courtesy wave to Owens, who then pulled out in front of Key to turn left. But Key had not seen motorcyclist Dewayne Hamilton traveling southbound in the adjacent lane. Hamilton, who was traveling above the speed limit, crashed into Owens’ car, and the force of the impact propelled Hamilton over Owens’ car onto the roadway. Hamilton sustained serious injuries as a result of the collision.
At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the motorcyclist, Hamilton, assigning fault as follows: 5 percent Hamilton, 45 percent Key, and 50 percent to non-party Owens. The trial court determined Hamilton’s injuries to be $2.2 million and therefore entered judgment against Key and his employers in the amount of $990,000. The defendants appealed the trial court’s ruling.
The Court of Appeals held that the commonly used courtesy wave will never be adequate to create a duty on the part of the signaling driver. It is only when a driver engages in a thorough examination of traffic in order to ensure another driver’s safety and gives an “all-clear” signal, as the case here, that a duty can be found.
The possibility exists that the appeal process if not over. The Court of Appeals could be asked to reconsider the matter, and the Indiana Supreme Court could be asked to accept the case on transfer and overturn the Court of Appeals decision.
In summary, just because you motion another car onto the roadway does not make you liable. However, since Key got out of his truck, looked behind him, and gave Owens the “all-clear” signal, he was liable because he gave Owens a thorough examination of the traffic.
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