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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court issues one

In Howard & Merry Funston v. School Town of Munster, an 8-page opinion (dissent on pp. 7-8), Justice Dickson writes:

Contributory negligence is generally a question of fact requiring trial by jury or court, but summary judgment may be proper where the undisputed facts and resulting inferences establish that the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This is such a case. We affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment.

Howard Funston was injured when he fell from a set of bleachers while watching his son participate in an Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball game at the Munster High School gymnasium. * * *

Under an agreement with the AAU, Munster High School provided six identical five-row portable aluminum bleacher sets. Each set of bleachers had no back support for the top row of seating, and none of the sets were pushed against a wall. For two games, Mr. Funston sat on the lower seats of two of the six separate but identical sets of bleachers, leaning back on the higher rows of the bleachers for support. During the third game of the day, he sat on the top row of a third set of identical bleachers. In an effort to get comfortable, Mr. Funston crossed his legs and leaned back, falling backwards off the bleachers and sustaining injuries. * * *

Finding that the undisputed evidence establishes as a matter of law that Mr. Funston was negligent and that such negligence was a proximate cause of the claimed injuries, we conclude that the trial court was correct to apply the defense of contributory negligence and to grant the school's motion for summary judgment. Judgment affirmed.

Rucker, Justice, dissenting.

Finding that under the facts of this case there is but one factual inference to be reached—namely, that Mr. Funston “was negligent to some degree”—the majority deems summary judgment appropriate. Slip op. at 5. I disagree. Summary judgment is rarely appropriate in negligence actions. Rhodes v. Wright, 805 N.E.2d 382, 387 (Ind. 2004). This is because “negligence cases are particularly fact sensitive and are governed by a standard of the objective reasonable person—one best applied by a jury after hearing all of the evidence.” Id. at 387. To declare as an indisputable factual inference that “Mr. Funston was negligent to some degree” without submitting the issue of negligence to a jury deprives Mr. Funston of the opportunity to demonstrate that he was not, in fact, a proximate cause of his injuries.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 28, 2006 12:57 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions