On January 5, 2020 a semi driver, Matthew Small, was driving a his semi-tractor and trailer on I-65 on the northwest suburbs of Indianapolis when he struck a line of stopped traffic.  According to Small, he was talking on the phone using a hands free device and drinking coffee and he was not aware of the stopped cars until the crash had already begun.  The crash tragically injured several motorists and killed three young people, including a very young child. As a result of the crash and the deaths, the Boone County Prosecutor’s has charged Small with three counts of Reckless Homicide.

Sadly, we’re all too familiar with this exact series of events.  As car accident attorneys in Indianapolis, we see it a lot actually.  What we don’t see very often is an at-fault driver being charged with Reckless Homicide for causing needless injury and death.

So, we wanted to take this opportunity to dive into what exactly reckless homicide is, how it is proven, and some examples of conduct that Indiana courts have said was and was not reckless homicide involving car crashes.

The most common kind of personal injury cases involve injuries arising from a car accident. Very rarely are those accidents also pursued criminally, absent the person causing the accident being intoxicated. Most of the time the at-fault driver is considered negligent, which means they didn’t treat the situation with the due care it deserved.  Common examples of this are following too closely, speeding, or running a red light.  The statute for reckless homicide, however, requires that the at-fault individual acted recklessly, not just negligently.

In Whitaker v. State a semi driver was convicted of reckless homicide in Gibson County, Indiana. Whitaker was following too closely and collided with the rear end of a vehicle, causing a crash that killed the other driver. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed his conviction of reckless homicide because there was no evidence that his conduct rose to the level of recklessness.  Negligent?  Absolutely.  But the court took the time to note that the Indiana legislature has not created the crimes of “negligent homicide” or “vehicular homicide.”  It takes something more to rise to the level of reckless homicide.

Reckless conduct as set out by the Indiana Code states that:  “A person engages in conduct ‘recklessly’ if he engages in the conduct in plain, conscious, and unjustifiable disregard of harm that might result and the disregard involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct.” In Whitaker did the driver know that he was following too closely? Did he know that driving over five miles over the speed limit might result in the death of another driver?  And even if he did, was it so inherently dangerous that it could have supported a criminal conviction for reckless homicide?  The Indiana Court of Appeals apparently believed that it would not.

The second prong of recklessness involves “a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct.” The Indiana Driver’s Manual states that it is a good idea to follow other cars at a distance of two to three seconds. Is this rule followed with prudence during rush hour? Not that we see. Traffic would be more backed up than it already is if every driver followed this general rule. It could be said that an acceptable standard of conduct is two to three seconds behind another vehicle, but is 1.5 seconds in stop and go traffic a substantial deviation? Probably not.  Is 1.5 seconds at 70 mph on I-465 a substantial deviation?  Could be, but there aren’t any bright lines here.

The Court in Whitaker also noted that proof that an accident arose out of inadvertence, lack of attention, forgetfulness, of from an error of judgement will not support a charge of reckless homicide. Below are some examples of these cases where reckless homicide did not stick:

  • attempting to pass another vehicle when the defendant’s view was obstructed, in violation of the reckless driving statute
  • driving through a light that freshly turned red when the driver is unable to stop in time
  • rear-ending a vehicle absent a showing that the driver knew he was following too closely and continued driving too closely anyway

It certainly is possible to convict an at-fault driver for reckless homicide, however.  Here are a few instances where the court ruled in favor of reckless homicide:

  • driving while intoxicated and substantially across the centerline for an extended period of time
  • a police officer driving through a flashing yellow light at 100 miles per hour without his lights or siren activated
  • driving 50 miles per hour down a narrow residential street with a 30 mile per hour speed limit and cars parked on both sides, while another person was standing on a running board, holding onto the driver’s side mirror
  • operating a vehicle on a very dark highway during the early morning hours without headlights
  • consuming alcohol and later driving around a corner at approximately 100 miles per hour
  • driving “erratically” and forty to fifty miles per hour where speed limit was thirty-five but snow and ice made twenty miles per hour the maximum safe speed
  • intentionally crossing the centerline for the purpose of greeting a friend according to a local custom

Tragic events similar to the one that took place on Sunday January 5, happen all the time, especially with semis. Big truck accidents often lead to big injuries and wrongful death.  Drivers need to be prudent and defensive. Always maintain a safe following distance.  And ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS be on the lookout, especially when in a traffic backup on the highway, and.

Be safe out there.

It is almost time. The children have been counting down the days since Thanksgiving (a couple of our attorneys’ wives have been counting down since Halloween). There is something in the air, but what if the unthinkable happens—Santa Claus is injured while delivering gifts to your home. There are a few questions you may want to consider in case Santa files a formal complaint against you. Would liability coverage go to work? Does it matter where on your property he fell? What if he got milk poisoning?

Would your insurance cover him?

Homeowners insurance is perhaps the most essential form of financial and personal property coverage, as the majority of most people’s assets are tied up in your home. Well, as with most things in the legal world, the answer is not black and white. Was Santa trespassing? Was he invited into your home? Did you know the milk had gone bad? Did your children set a trap to try to catch Santa for giving them coal last year?

The law defines someone as a trespasser if they enter and remain on the real property of another wrongfully or without the owner’s or possessor’s authority or consent. In the case of Santa, there are likely few circumstances when he would be considered a trespasser. Most people want Santa to deliver the goods. However, say Mr. Claus falls off the roof trying to drop off a load of coal to Ebenezer Scrooge or the Grinch, neither of them wanting the big man near their homes. It is likely that Santa will have to pay for his injuries himself since he did not get Scrooge’s or the Grinch’s consent to enter their property. However, there is one instance where the property owners could still be responsible for St. Nick’s injuries.

The Known Trespasser Law.

A landowner has to duty to look out for a trespasser, but once a trespasser has been discovered, the landowner owes the trespasser a duty of reasonable care not to increase his peril.  In other words, no Santa traps. Say every year Santa comes and every year the Grinch leaves him a note telling him he is not welcome on his mountain, so this year on Christmas Eve the Grinch and Scrooge meet up to carry out a plan to finish Santa off once and for all. They decide to water the roof so that when Jolly Old St. Nick hops off his sleigh he will slide off the roof and fall down Mt. Crumpit. That is a big no-no. Just because someone is trespassing on your land does not mean you can do whatever you want to them to get them off your property. Now if the Grinch and Scrooge put a sign on the roof warning the trespasser (Santa) of the slippery condition and telling him not to land there, and Santa lands there nonetheless, they may be able to get out of that pickle.

The Grinch and Scrooge are two atypical examples. Most people want Santa to come visit their homes. Therefore he would likely be considered an invitee. The law defines an invitee as a person who comes onto another’s property, premises or business establishment upon invitation. The duty owed to an invitee is the highest legal level of care. That duty is the duty to use reasonable and ordinary care to keep the premises safe and to protect the invitee from injury caused by unreasonable risk that the invitee may not discover on his or her own. While a slippery roof is something Santa can probably foresee, hot ashes in your fireplace may not be. In that case, the property own/possessor may want to put a sign somewhere that Santa will notice informing him of the hot coals.

What about spoiled milk?

Santa has to know there is some risk drinking milk that has been sitting out for 8-10 hours. According to dairygood.org, milk can start to grow bacteria if left out for two hours. Are you negligent for not watching the Santa tracker so that you can leave milk so that it was not become spoiled? Or should Santa just know that when he drinks the milk there is the inherent risk that it may be spoiled? There are persuasive arguments for both sides so just to be safe I would write down the time the milk was left out and a waiver of all liability should the big man get sick from drinking the milk.

So let’s say that last year a little boy, we’ll just call him Kolten, kicked the Mall Claus for not delivering on a little brother so he ended up on the naughty list. This year Kolten wants to catch the fat man and hold him hostage until he gets his little brother. Kolten, with the help of his older brother Austin decide to put a bear trap in front of the fire place, and if that were not enough, they leave out spoiled milk so that Santa will at least need a new outfit for next year if the bear trap doesn’t work. Well in this case Austin and Kolten would be opening themselves up to numerous liabilities. Battery, assault, false imprisonment (if they catch Mr. Claus), and poisoning (not to mention the criminal charges that will likely result). In this case, Santa could recover a lot more than just for his injuries. He could recover punitive damages, which are damages designed to punish the party in the wrong for their wrong doing. Homeowners insurance will not cover this conduct. Kolten and Austin’s parents will likely be on the hook for all of this.  Luckily for them though, Indiana law caps a parents’ liability at $5,000 of actual damages

Most everyone loves when Santa Claus comes to town, but whether you want him there or not, you could be liable for injuries he sustains while on your premises. As your Indianapolis Injury Attorneys, we just want to make sure you have the knowledge available to protect yourself from a nasty lawsuit.  For your convenience we have attached a liability waiver form to sit on the chimney before he drops in or to mail out with next year’s wish list so that you can help protect yourself from an elf process server.

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays from your Ladendorf Law family.  Stay frosty friends!

 

 

Waiver of Liability and Assumption of Risk Agreement

Use of Premises

Waiver:

In consideration of my use of the premises of ____________________________, I for myself, my heirs, personal representatives, elves, or assigns, do hereby release, waiver, discharge, and covenant not to sue ________________, or anyone else presiding in the household for injuries caused by slipping and falling, burns as a result of the fire place, or any other injuries, including intentional injuries, by the person listed above or anyone else presiding in the home.

Waiver:

I, Saint Nick aka Kris Kringle aka Santa Claus aka Pere Noel aka Father Christmas, understand that the milk and cookies left out at __:__ pm/am, were fit for human consumption when so placed. The expiration date on the milk carton was established as _________________, 20__. I have been advised that bacteria may start to grow in milk if left out for more than two (2) hours. My signature and acknowledgement below constitutes a waiver to sue or otherwise make a claim for damages if I should become sick as a result of consuming the aforementioned milk and/or cookies.

 

__________________________                                                   __________________________

Saint Nicholas                                                                                                 Time and Date Consumed

a/k/a Kris Kringle

a/k/a Santa Claus

a/k/a Pere Noel

a/k/a Father Christmas

 

Thanksgiving is a time of love and family.  Where we can all express what we’re thankful for.  But we deal with personal injury claims for a living.  So Thanksgiving is also a minefield of civil law dangers where you could be liable for, or the victim of, horrific circumstances.  So without further ado, here is our list of 4 Thanksgiving Liabilities that you should know about.

 

#4 — Turkey Fryers

‘Twas the night before Thanksgiving, when all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The turkey was placed, frozen, in the sink to thaw

In hopes that this year’s bird would leave the family in awe

 Father was nestled all snug in his bed,

While visions of praise danced in his head.

And Mamma in her kerchief, and the kid in their cap,

Had already settled in for a long fall nap.

When out in the garage there arose such a clatter,

Mom sprang from her bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window she flew like the flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

And the garage was on fire.

 

Turkey frying can be a dangerous game. According to the National Fire Protection Association, an estimated $15 million in property damage, 60 injuries, and five deaths can be attributed to the use of a turkey fryer. Why does this happen? Sometimes the oil can be too hot or the turkey too frozen. Luckily in most cases, standard Homeowners Insurance policy will cover your house. It could subject you to liability if the fire causes your neighbor’s house to burn or the unthinkable happens and someone loses their life.

This year, if you are frying a turkey make sure the oil is the correct temperature (varies depending on type of oil) and that your bird is thawed before dropping it into the oil.

 

#3 — Dram Shop/Social Host

At many a Thanksgiving dinner there will be alcohol served, but this can open the host of the dinner up to liability. Let’s say a guest shows up to your family function. You have a pretty good amount of alcohol there and the guest decided to help himself.  It soon becomes clear that your guest is inebriated.  But the pumpkin spice Jell-O Shots won’t take themselves, so you pass them around. As the night winds down and people start leaving the guest decides that he will drive himself home. On the way, the guest causes a serious car accident and the person they hit is seriously injured.

The Dram Shop Act made it so that businesses who sell alcohol can be held liable if a patron at their bar or restaurant is overserved, drives home, and injures someone. The same principles can also apply to hosts of social events, such as Thanksgiving dinner. Drinking and driving is NEVER a good idea and every year thousands of people die as a result of drunk driving. If you see something, say something. Do not let an intoxicated person get behind the wheel. It is not only the right thing to do, but you could be held liable for whatever part you played in the drunk driver’s actions (or at least in him getting drunk in the first place). I encourage people to have a plan before drinking and to stick to that plan.  **Editor’s note: as long as the “plan” is NOT to get drunk and drive.  That’s a very bad plan.**

 

#2 — Food Poisoning

 

Last year’s Christmas dinner with the family was a mess. You didn’t get your work bonus, you stapled yourself to the gutter while hanging Christmas lights, and you had to deal with Cousin Eddie emptying his RV sewage out into the storm sewer. You finally sit down to eat and the turkey Cousin Catherine cooked was way overdone. She felt horrible and blamed it on Cousin Eddie. This year for Thanksgiving she wants to redeem herself. She begged and begged you to allow her to bring the Turkey. You gave in.

In an effort to not make the same mistake as she did on Christmas, she purchases a turkey that has already been cooked from a local truck stop. The turkey tastes great, the whole family is relieved and praising Cousin Catherine, but a short while later the bathrooms are taking some serious abuse from the whole family. Catherine admits to the family that she has purchased her turkey already cooked. Is the truck stop liable for the injuries suffered by the family?

When it comes to food preparation the person making a claim for the undercooked food alleges that the cook was negligent in the food preparation. Here, the family must prove that the truck stop failed to prepare and serve its turkey in a manner that was safe for human consumption and that as a result of eating such turkey, the family sustained injuries and damages.

Food poisoning can ruin the Holidays and be dangerous to your health.  Whether you’re buying food from a restaurant, or making it yourself, make sure you’ve got your bird up to a safe temperature and don’t undercook that oyster stuffing.  That’s something your whole family will be thankful for.

 

#1 — Fights


Some things just go together.  Turkey & Stuffing.  Mashed Potatoes & Gravy.  Thanksgiving & family fights.  Sometimes Thanksgiving dinners can get out of hand. Maybe your mother and your father do not like your significant other or do not necessarily agree with your decision to go into the lucrative business of selling premium snapchats. Mix some roast turkey with a little bit of Wild Turkey and you could have a Thanksgiving like the one above.

Obviously, a fist fight could result in some criminal charges.  Battery or disorderly conduct come to mind.  But, depending on the facts, fighters could make claims against each other for physical injuries.  Grandma could even make a claim for the property damage caused when the fracas broke out.

What’s important to know, is you’re not going to have insurance to cover damages caused in a fist fight.  So if your cousin is arguing politics with you and you break his face with a punch.  You could be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical bills if they get badly hurt.

So no matter how tempting it might be to settle differences with a little fisticuffs, you should settle these differences like family…..ya know, but trying to get grandma to write them out of the will.

 

So that’s our list of 4 Thanksgiving Liabilities.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of our friends & family out there.  Be thankful for all of your blessings and be safe out there!

 

Disclaimer:  We are not attorneys licensed to practice law in any of the Seven Kingdoms or Essos.

Spoiler Warning:  This blog post will contain spoilers for the first 7 seasons of Game of Thrones.  The night is dark and full of spoilers.

Game of Thrones is a phenomenon.  It’s a landmark series that has separated itself from other shows and grown its audience throughout its run on HBO.  Normal people may watch the show and ask themselves “Who will sit upon the Iron Throne?” or “Who is Azor Ahai?”  But I am a nerd.  And I ask myself what is the tort law system like in King’s Landing?  Lord knows there are plenty of people suffering injuries & wrongful death in a World of Ice and Fire.  So let’s dive into some specific examples of Game of Thrones injuries and see what would happen in the real world.

Situation #1  – Jaime Lannister pushing Bran Stark from the window

Photo Credit – HBO

Game of Thrones shrugged off convention in the pilot episode.  Young Bran Stark climbs a tower at his castle and catches the Queen in throes of passion with her twin brother (who is also one of the Kingsguard, the Westerosi equivalent of the Secret Service).  The twins are rightfully concerned about the repercussions of their tryst being discovered, so Jaime Lannister casually shoves Bran out of the tower window.  Bran survives with no memory (at least at the time, but that’s a long story), but he becomes paraplegic as a result of the fall.

Does Bran have a claim against Jaime? 

Yes and no. 

He definitely suffered a serious injury because of Jaime’s actions and that is legally recoverable.  But It was an intentional act and insurance contracts typically do not cover intentional torts.  And it’s doubtful that there even is some kind of insurance policy for what happened anyway. 

So Bran would be stuck in a situation where he would have to sue Jaime personally to try and get Jaime’s assets.  Now even though a Lannister always pays his debts, how much money does Jaime have?  His family is the richest on the continent, but does he have actual assets in his name or does his dad just send him an allowance?  Because it matters.  Bran could secure a judgment of millions of gold dragons but unless Jaime has the cash, the judgment is only worth the paper its printed on unless there is insurance money or assets that can be readily gotten to.  If Jaime doesn’t have assets, he could just declare bankruptcy and discharge the debt without paying a dime. 

We run into similar situations often where clients are catastrophically injured, but there is limited or no insurance coverage available.  It doesn’t make sense to spend the money it takes to go to trial and get an uncollectable judgment.

Does Bran have a claim against the government?

Possibly, but you would have to get creative. 

The biggest benefit to Bran of making a claim against the government is that there is potentially another party with a duty to pay for Jaime’s wrongful acts.  If Bran were to make a claim against the kingdom for what Jaime did, it would be subject to the Indiana Tort Claim Act.  The downside there is that the ITCA limits government liability to $700,000 in damages. 

The biggest thing Bran would have to prove in making a claim against the government is that Jaime was acting in the course and scope of his employment as a Kingsguard member, otherwise he’s acting as a private citizen and the claim would fail.  On one hand (no pun intended), he was at that particular castle traveling with the King and his job IS to protect the royal family.  So his choice to push Bran from the window to protect the lives of the queen and her children might fall into the category of acting in the course of his employment.  On the other hand, it’d be hard to imagine that a discreet lovemaking session with the Queen is in his job description.   

Bran may also have a separate theory against the government.  Instead of framing the issue as a wrongful act resulting in personal injury, he could also wrap in a federal civil rights violation for Jaime’s use of excessive force.  He would still have to prove that Jaime was acting as an agent of the government when he pushed Bran.  The damages calculations are different with civil rights violations too, because you’re not claiming the value of the physical injury, you’re claiming the value of the violation of your constitutionally protected rights.

How long does Bran have to make a claim?

Generally speaking, the statute of limitations on a civil case is two years.  It does get extended if the person is a minor, like Bran, and the two year clock doesn’t start moving until his 18th name day.  So Bran will have until he is 20 years old to either settle the claim or file suit.

Situation #2Where’d you find this doctor?

Photo Credit -HBO

Back again to Season 1.  Dany’s husband, Khal Drogo, gets wounded in the shoulder when he’s killing one of his men who started talking a little too familiar with the boss.  The wound gets infected, so Dany enlists the services of a woman who had just been captured by their army who claimed to be able to heal him.  She used some, let’s call them “unconventional” methods of healing, and I’m pretty sure the Khal turned septic. 

Dany made a last ditch deal with this healer, Mirri Maz Duur, when she again promised that she could save Drogo.  She failed, kinda.  Mirri put him through a blood magic ceremony, slitting a horse’s throat spraying everything inside of their tent.  I said it was unconventional.  Drogo survived but was left in a comatose state.  Writer’s Note:  What Mirri Maz Duur did was intentional, but for the sake of discussion we’re going to act like she actually did mean to save him.

What is medical malpractice?

It’s a breach of the standard of care, it’s not a bad outcome.  Medical procedures have some inherent risks associated with them.  Even a routine surgery can be fatal if the patient, for example, has a bad reaction to the anesthesia.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that it was malpractice.  Another example would be being nicked by a scalpel and bleeding out during hear surgery.  It’s a tragedy, but not necessarily malpractice.  If the surgeon on the other hand was using a dirty hunting knife to do the surgery, you’d be on to something that rises to malpractice.

Is there a claim for medical malpractice here?

Um, yeah.  I’m not sure where Westeros stands on knowledge of infectious diseases, but I’m pretty sure they understand that horse blood is not an effective antibiotic.

How would a medical malpractice claim play out?

First, Dany would have to make a claim with the Indiana Department of Insurance explaining the medical negligence.  If the provider is NOT covered by the Medical Malpractice Act, then it proceeds into litigation like any other case.  If the provider is covered, the claim continues on the process.  After doing discovery, they’d empanel a medical review panel consisting of three maesters to review both sides’ submissions and the panel would determine whether (1) malpractice occurred and (2) if so, did the malpractice cause injury.  The panel opinion isn’t binding on the determination of the case, but it can come up and be presented to the jury.

If there’s no informal settlement, then the case would go into general litigation.  When it comes to settlement times, there is a hard cap on medical malpractice cases.  Currently, the cap on damages is $1.65 Million, rising to $1.8 Million in July of 2019.  The provider is responsible for up to the initial $400k (increasing to $500k in 2019) and the remainder has to be sought through the Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund which is funded by annual surcharges paid by all qualified health care providers.  It’s good for providers by limiting their liability.  It’s equally bad for those who suffer serious damages due to medical negligence where even a case where they receive the full cap on damages is not enough to pay for their past and future medical care or in cases where a loved one passes away due to medical negligence.

Situation #3 – What about Bronn?

Photo Credit – HBO

Bronn has been one of the breakout characters on the show.  He’s a mercenary, called a sellsword, who has been hired by a succession of Lannisters from Season 1 to present.  Basically, he’s a hired bodyguard/killer.  And he hasn’t died up to S8 Ep. 3, so he’s at least proficient at what he does.  So what happens if he gets thrown from his horse on his way to Dorne?  Does he get work comp?  What if has a few too many ales on the way and side swipes someone on the Kingsroad?  Does the crown get sued?  Will he ever get his castle?  The streets are talking…..

What’s his employment status?

The threshold question in a case where someone gets hurt or hurts someone else when on the job is whether they are an employee or independent contractor.  An employee gets work comp if he gets injured while acting in the course and scope of employment.  Doesn’t matter if it’s his fault or not.  Similarly, if an employee is acting in the course and scope of employment, their employee is liable for injuries caused by their employee’s negligent acts.  For independent contractors, they’re on their own.  Work comp laws don’t apply to them if they get hurt, and absent some specific language that could be in their contract, they’re responsible if they hurt someone else. 

Courts use a 20 factor test to determine whether an individual is an employee or contractor.  No particular factor is dispositive, but they all get to the general question of how much control does the employer have over the employee.  Does the employer withhold taxes?  1099 or W2? Provide benefits?  Do they drive a company vehicle or wear a company uniform?  Who sets the hours?  Are they paid by the job or a regular salary?  Can they subcontract the job or are they required to do it?  Who provides the tools of the trade?  How much expertise is involved?

From everything we’ve seen with Bronn, the evidence points to classic independent contractor.  He can walk away any time he wants.  Even though he’s been a fixture serving the Lannister’s for 8 seasons, he did turn down Tyrion’s offer to fight for him at his trial by combat against Ser Gregor Clegane.  He fights with the Lannister army, but wears his own armor.  Even when he commanded the City Watch, he didn’t wear the uniform.  His job takes a great deal of expertise and I can’t imagine he’s getting a W2 at tax time.  In fact it seems like he just gets paid haphazardly with sacks of gold (not bad work if you can find it).  Admittedly, he’s probably not free to subcontract out his killing for hire, but that’s the big knock against the independent contractor designation.

What happens to Bronn if there’s a claim?

Assuming that he’s an independent contractor, if Bronn gets sued, it’s going to be up to him to defend himself.  Luckily, Westeros has trials by combat and so he’s got fairly effective defense, so to speak.

If Bronn gets hurt because of some other person’s actions, he wouldn’t qualify for work comp and would have to seek compensation from the at-fault party on his own.

The crown may get sued for something Bronn does, but they would most likely move for, basically, a dismissal of the case against them by seeking a legal determination from the judge that Bronn is an independent contractor and they’re not liable for any damages he caused.

Summary

These are just three examples of how tort law would play into the Game of Thrones universe.  There are plenty of other examples on the show like Did Littlefinger cause Sansa Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress by Giving her to the Bolton’s?  What happens if you get bitten by one of Dany’s dragons?  Could Tyrion make a claim for defamation for what was said during his trial in King’s Landing?  Could Jaqen H’ghar be properly served notice of a lawsuit if a Man is No One?

We’ll how Season 8 plays out and maybe revisit these questions and more in the future.

Be safe out there,

 

Matt Bigler

Ladendorf Law

The news broke over the last week that David Bisard was released from prison to start serving probation. Many in the Central Indiana biker community and the community overall have expressed outrage that Bisard could be released after serving only 3 ½ years of an announced 16 year sentence.  I want to take the chance to try to show how this happened and let you know how you can make sure your voice is heard.

First, in 2014 the Indiana Legislature re-wrote the criminal code for the state. Notably, the old system of felonies graded by letter (4 levels from D to A) was replaced by a number system (6-1).  Bisard was sentenced under the old system for his convictions for:

1: Operating a Vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.15 Causing Death – Class B Felony

2: Operating a Vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.08 Causing Serious Bodily Injury – Class D Felony

3: Operating a Vehicle with a BAC greater than 0.08 Causing Serious Bodily Injury – Class D Felony

For a Class B Felony, the penalty range was 6-20.  A Class D Felony ranged between 1-3 years.  So the maximum possible penalty Bisard, or anyone else facing the same charges, could have received on paper was 26 total years.  He also could have gotten as low as 6 years.  Bisard’s actual sentence was:

Class B Felony: 13 total years.  10 years in prison.  3 years suspended to probation.

Class D Felony: 1 ½ total years.  1 ½ totals years in prison

Class D Felony: 1 ½ total years.  1 ½ totals years in prison

TOTAL Sentence: 16 total years.  13 years in prison.  3 years suspended to probation

So how does someone sentenced to 13 years in prison get out in 3 ½? First is good time credit.  When he was sentenced, an inmate received one day of good time credit for each day served.  So when he was sentenced to 13 total years in prison, it effectively was a 6 ½ year prison term.  Second, Bisard also received jail credit days for the time he was in custody awaiting trial.  Additionally, he received his associates degree while in prison and was given the benefit of another time cut.  Good Time Credit and time cuts happen every day because of the system that was and is in place.  Most of us are just generally unaware of it unless it happens with a defendant that has harmed us or one of our loved ones.

What’s Broken?

There are a number of issues with the sentencing laws for this crime. For example, with the rewrite of the criminal code the maximum actual number of years for what Bisard did is now 8 years instead of 10.  Also, with the rewrite, there is never a mandatory executed sentence for a drunk driving causing death unless there is also a hit & run component.

The definition of “Serious Bodily Injury” also deserves to be looked at by the legislature. As it is written, serious bodily injury covers everything from a broken arm to putting someone in a coma.  In either case, there are no enhancements beyond the 1-3 year penalty range for the degree of injury or level of intoxication.  This is more pronounced now because the equivalent charge has a 1 – 2 ½ year penalty range with the same 50% credit time system.

The civil law system also has disadvantages in a case like this. Because Bisard was working as an IMPD officer at the time of the crash, any claim for compensation by those injured by him is subject to the Indiana Tort Claims Act (click HERE for a video with more information on the ITCA).  So whether someone has passed away or suffered lifelong and debilitating injuries, the most the government can be required to pay to compensate is $700,000 per person.  At first blush this sounds like a great deal of money, unless you’ve seen the medical bills that come along with catastrophic injury.

How to be Heard

The problems with the David Bisard sentencing are not unique to him. Victims, and their families, all over the state have this happen to them every day.  The only people who can make changes to the criminal and civil laws that allowed this situation to happen are the legislators at the Indiana General Assembly.  Click HERE to find your legislator and let your voice be heard.

Matthew S. Bigler, Esq.

While I am happy to report that the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in favor of my injured client in this specific case, I think the Court’s opinion does a very good job of unanimously affirming the importance of our civil justice system and the absolute need for our courts to be open to all. 

The Court’s opinion is 19 pages long so I thought I would provide you with some highlights from Chief Justice Rush’s opinion.  The opening sentence of the opinion reads: 

Indiana’s tort trials should be about making injured parties whole—not about federal immigration policies and laws. 

She then went on to address the constitutional implications this case raised: 

When Indiana law affords a remedy—like recovering decreased earning capacity—the Open Courts Clause does not permit us to close the courthouse door based solely on the plaintiff’s immigration status. We cannot read the Open Courts Clause’s “every person” guarantee to exclude unauthorized immigrants. [Citations omitted.]  And as long as decreased earning capacity remains recoverable in personal injury actions, it is part of administering justice “completely.” See Smith, 883 N.E.2d at 807 (“[The Open Courts Clause means], at a minimum, that to the extent the law provides a remedy for a wrong, the courts are available and accessible to grant relief.”).  Accordingly, Escamilla and similarly situated plaintiffs cannot be barred from pursuing decreased earning capacity claims. 

Chief Justice Rush even quoted from Chapter 40 of Magna Carta, writing “to no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.” 

After distinguishing a federal decision that was based upon a conflict between two federal statutes and involved only federal congressional policy, the Court moved on to create an evidentiary framework addressing when evidence of an injured party’s immigration status might be admissible. 

After acknowledging that immigration status is relevant to a claim for decreased earning capacity, the Court went on to find that, in the vast majority of instances, such evidence should be excluded under IRE 403 because it would confuse the issues and be unfairly prejudicial.  After acknowledging the complexities and constantly shifting federal immigration laws and policies – including a recent Executive Order signed by President Trump – the Court wrote: 

The way complex immigration law has invaded this opinion demonstrates the way it would invade Escamilla’s tort case if his immigration status were admitted. Immigration arguments and evidence would “flood the courtroom.” See Thompson v. State, 690 N.E.2d 224, 236 (Ind. 1997) (quoting United States v. Smith, 80 F.3d 1188, 1193 (7th Cir. 1996)). Injecting such a specialized and complex mini-trial into Escamilla’s tort case creates too high a risk of confusing the issues.  

The Court ultimately concluded that it is the Defendant’s burden to show that the injured party more likely than not will be deported before the issue of their immigration status can become admissible.  In reaching this conclusion the Court observed: 

Finally, even though proof that a particular immigrant will more likely than not be deported may be a steep showing, it is still the least cumbersome alternative. Requiring plaintiffs to prove that they will not likely be deported would require them to prove a negative—a burden we rarely impose. [Citations omitted.] 

For these reasons, the admissibility of immigration status under Rule 403 for decreased earning capacity claims turns on the chances of deportation. If a plaintiff is more likely than not to be deported, the relevance is necessarily so high that it will not be substantially outweighed by the evidence’s risks. But if the chances of deportation fall below that level, immigration status should be excluded to avoid the dangers of confusing the issues and unfair prejudice. 

This case will prove helpful to all injured parties who have been an unauthorized immigrant either currently or at some time in the past. 

Most heartening to us as trial lawyers, the Court’s unanimous Opinion shows a deep and abiding respect for the rights of injured persons to have access to our courts and the seek compensation when they have been injured through the fault of others.  

Finally, I want to offer my deepest thanks to all who helped on this case including Alex Limontes and Tom Ruge for their excellent Amicus Briefs.

 

Timothy F. Devereux

In the last few weeks, Harley-Davidson, Inc. has announced the recall of an anticipated 66,421 motorcycle units following consumer crashes resulting in personal injuries.  The company’s concerns center around the front wheels locking without warning.

From the Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) –

Harley-Davidson is recalling 66,421 Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles from the 2014 model year because their front wheels can lock up without warning.

Motorcycles with anti-lock brakes built between July 1, 2013, and May 7, 2014, are included in the recall.

Harley-Davidson Inc. says the front brake line can get pinched between the fuel tank and the frame. That could cause front brake fluid pressure to increase, increasing the risk that the front wheel could lock up while riding.

The company knows of five crashes and two minor injuries related to the defect, which it discovered last fall through warranty claims.

Harley-Davidson will notify owners later this month. Dealers will replace the brake lines for free and attach straps to hold them in place.

Here’s more information from USA Today:

At the height of riding season, Harley-Davidson has ordered up a big recall of near-new motorcycles.

Harley is recalling 66,421 Touring and CVO Touring motorcycles from the 2014 model year. It warns that the front wheels can lock up without warning. The recall applies to bikes with anti-lock brakes made between July 1, 2013, and May 7.

The flaw has resulted in five crashes, with two minor injuries.

The snafu occurs when a brake line in front is pinched between the fuel tank and the frame, causing the front brake fluid pressure to increase and increasing the risk that the front wheel could lock up while riding. Dealers will replace brake lines and install straps to keep them in place.

The company invites consumers to review safety recall information on its website, where you can enter your VIN securely and see if this recall applies to your motorcycle. 

Greetings:

This is an exciting year for me personally and for my law practice.  Since January of 2012, I have added three full-time associate attorneys to my firm: Timothy Devereux, Dustin Fregiato and my son, Lance Ladendorf.  Together, my firm has over 84 years combined legal experience and these three new additions have been, and will continue to be, valuable assets to the practice.  The pursuit of justice on behalf of my clients relative to their injury claims can often be mired in paperwork and red tape, even after a successful settlement with the responsible party.  Insurance forms, Medicare, Medicaid and hospital lien notices necessitating multiple negotiation stages are just a few of the issues we confront on a consistent basis.  My staff is well versed in these procedures and ready to take on any challenges brought to them.

Additionally, I am proud to share with you that Daniel Ladendorf, after investing countless hours working with the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA), was successful in the pursuit of significant amendments to theIndiana Hospital Lien Actwhich unjustly took advantage of innocent victims of third-party injury accidents in the State of Indiana.  Governor Pence signed the amended bill into law on May 7, 2013.  This is a major victory for injured Hoosiers and their counsel, and our firm commends Dan for his tireless advocacy for the new legislation.

I am also very proud to announce that I have been elected to serve as President of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association for the 2013-14 term. This honor has been bestowed upon me after many years of service as a member of the ITLA’s Board of Directors and Executive Committee.  As President, I will be coordinating efforts on many fronts – from our communities to the courthouses to the Statehouse – to safeguard the rights of injured individuals from the forces that seek to limit those legal protections.

The bike season is now upon us and I know most of you are enjoying the weather by getting out on the roads.  Please tune in on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. on the WISH-TV/WNDY channel starting June 2nd for the newSteel Horse Thunder sponsored by Ladendorf Law and brought to you by Scott Schnizler this season.  As most of you know, Scott finished out last season doing interviews at events for several of the Steel Horse TV episodes.  Steve Reeves has officially turned over the microphone to Scott and we are looking forward to where Scott can take us on Steel Horse Thunder!  Be sure to calendar your events on my web page at http://ladendorf.wpengine.com/events/.

Enjoy the open roads and watch out for crazy drivers who won’t see you in their path!

Mark

 

From small beginnings come great things…

If you have visited our firm’s website before May 2013, you will surely notice the changes to the format, layout, and the content of this site.  Our new look is the offspring of our partnership with Indianapolis-based Nextfly, which specializes in web design for businesses of all shapes and sizes.  We hope you, our viewers, enjoy the easy navigability of this site and its many features.

At Ladendorf Law, we strive to remain a committed member of our community, from our sponsorship of Steel Horse TV to the Motorcycle Expo at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.  We are always looking for new ways to reach out to those who are curious about their rights under the laws of our State and our Nation or who are in need of legal representation due to an accident involving bodily injuries.   Gone are the days where people wanting to speak to a lawyer had to thumb through the Yellow Pages.  An abundance of legal resources are now at our fingertips thanks to the rise of the Internet and the social media boom.   Still, there is simply no replacement for the individualized care, knowledge, and expertise that an experienced attorney can bring to a legal issue.  Our goal in creating this law blog, or “blawg,” is to make our practice relevant to you- whether you are an injured person looking for counsel, a practitioner looking for an in-depth explanation of a recent case or news event, or just an old friend wanting to see what we’re up to this time.

We thank you for your support, welcome your feedback, and encourage you to contact us if you or someone dear to you has been hurt as a result of another’s negligence or wrongdoing and would like to speak with one of our attorneys.