Indiana Supreme Court Finds that Student was Contributorily Negligent by Impermissibly Leaving School Grounds

Recently, the Indiana Supreme Court released an opinion in a case involving the devastating murder of a student after he left school grounds without permission. The case illustrates important concepts of government liability and comparative fault, both of which are frequently at issue in Indiana personal injury lawsuits.

According to the court’s opinion, the young man’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Indiana school district, claiming that the school was responsible because it did not ensure that the young man stayed on school grounds. Reports indicated that the young man was frequently truant, and on the day of the murder, he came to school late and subsequently left through an unsecured exit while school was still in session. It is unclear why the student left school, but there was evidence to suggest that the young man left to engage in unlawful activities. Tragically, he was shot and murdered shortly after he left school.

The family’s lawsuit alleged that the school was responsible for the wrongful death of the young man because they did not adequately supervise the student during school hours. In response, the school district moved to dismiss the claim based on the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA) as well as the doctrine of contributory negligence. The appeals court found that there were issues of material fact regarding whether the student was contributorily negligent in his death.

The Indiana Supreme Court reviewed the case under Indiana’s contributory negligence laws. Generally, the state’s comparative fault law reduces a plaintiff’s award for damages based on their percentage of fault. However, the state’s comparative fault act does not apply to governmental organizations, such as public schools.

In instances where the defendant is a governmental entity, Indiana follows strict contributory negligence laws. Common law contributory negligence bars a plaintiff’s recovery when they bear any responsibility for their injuries. Moreover, the courts apply an adult standard of care to children over 14 years old. In this case, the young man was 16 years old, and there are no facts that indicate that there are any special circumstances that limited his ability to exercise his expected standard of care. The court conceded that there are questions regarding the reason why the student left school; however, some facts indicated that he did not exercise reasonable care. For example, the student engaged in criminal activity the night before he left school, he skipped school without permission, and he had a large amount of unexplained money in his possession. These facts show that he did not conform to his required duty of care for his safety. Ultimately, the court found that under the ITCA, the young man was contributorily negligent, and therefore the court dismissed his estate’s wrongful death claim against the school.

Have You or a Loved One Suffered Injuries Because of Another’s Negligence?

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries as a result of a governmental entity’s negligence, you should contact Padove Law. Indiana personal injury lawyer Burton A. Padove handles all types of personal injury lawsuits. Attorney Padove has extensive experience handling complex Indiana car accident lawsuits, slip and fall claims, as well as other lawsuits. He can help you get the compensation you deserve. If you are successful, you may be entitled to monetary compensation for the injuries you sustained. Contact Attorney Padove to discuss your Indiana personal injury case at 877-446-5294.