Indiana Supreme Court Rules on Contributory Negligence of Children

The Indiana Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling confirming that children ages 7 to 14 aren’t capable of contributory negligence. The court’s decision affirmed a jury verdict in favor of the parents of a 13 year old boy whose parents sued Clay City Consolidated School Corp following their son’s death during basketball practice in 2003.

The Court’s ruling in Clay City Consolidated School Corp. v. Ronna Timberman and John Pipes II, No. 11S04-0904-CV-134, resulted from a successful appeal by Clay City Schools, wherein the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the original verdict in favor of the parents for the wrongful death of their son, Kodi Pipes. Kodi had not been cleared by his doctor to practice without restrictions when he participated during drills at basketball practice and collapsed and died. His mother, Ronna Timberman, had told the coach he could do walkthroughs at practice, but couldn’t participate in strenuous activity. Following his death, his parents filed suit against the school corporation. The jury returned a favorable verdict, awarding them $300,000 in damages.

In its reversal, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial because it found the trial court committed reversible error when it gave an instruction that Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption for 7 to 14 year old children.

However, the Supreme Court relied upon case law established in Borttorff v. S. Constr. Co., 184 Ind. 221, 110 N.E. 977 (1916), and Mangold ex rel. Mangold v. Ind. Department of Natural Resources, 756 N.E.2d 970 (Ind. 2001), wherein the justices confirm that Indiana law does recognize a rebuttable presumption that children ages 7 to 14 are incapable of contributory negligence.

Justice Frank Sullivan of the Supreme Court referenced the precedent in Borttorff in his opinion and also discussed the “unquestioned obligation that the alleged tortfeasor bears of proving contributory negligence.” Based upon the precedence, the justices determined the trial court’s instruction was a correct statement of law.

Also of note, the Supreme Court further ruled that Clay City waived its argument that Kodi’s parents were contributorily negligent and that the trial court’s instructions did not entitle Clay City to a new trial.

For more on the case, read the opinion at the link below:
Clay_City_v_Timberman_and_Pipes.pdf