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Monday, July 23, 2012

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today, re the Indiana guest statute

In Robert L. Clark, Jr. and Debra Clark v. Robert L. Clark, Sr., a 5-page, 3-2 opinion, Cheif Justice Dickson writes:

The Indiana Guest Statute prevents certain designated passengers from recovering dam-ages for injuries resulting from the ordinary negligence of the motor vehicle operator, where such passenger was "being transported without payment in or upon the motor vehicle." Ind. Code § 34-30-11-1 (emphasis added). We hold that, as to injuries inflicted when such a passenger has exited the vehicle and is standing outside of it and directing the driver's attempt to park, the passenger is not "in or upon" the vehicle and thus is not precluded from bringing a negligence action against the driver.

Both parties moved for summary judgment seeking a determination of the applicability of the Guest Statute, and the trial court ruled in favor of Senior. The Court of Appeals reversed, in an unpublished opinion [ILB emphasis], Clark v. Clark, No. 01A02-1007-CT-759, 2011 WL 2848178 (Ind. Ct. App. July 19, 2011). We granted transfer and now hold that the Indiana Guest Statute does not bar the plaintiffs' suit. * * *

Conclusion. The "in or upon" language of the unambiguous Indiana Guest Statute must be given its plain and ordinary meaning and does not apply to persons who may have been passengers but who, at the time of their injury, had exited the vehicle and were not actually being transported by it. Under the agreed facts of this case, the Guest Statute does not bar the plaintiffs' claims. We reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for denial of the defendant's motion for summary judgment and granting of the plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment.

Rucker and David, JJ., concur.

Sullivan and Massa, JJ., dissent, and would affirm the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Senior, believing the analysis of KLLM, Inc. v. Legg, 826 N.E.2d 136 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005), trans. denied, and of Chief Judge Robb in this case, Clark v. Clark, No. 01A02-1007-CT-759, 2011 WL 2848178 at *3-5 (Ind. Ct. App. July 19, 2011) (Robb, C.J., dissenting), to have been correct.

ILB note: See the paragraph in CJ Robb's 2011 dissent starting on p. 8, beginning:
Even more importantly, words such as “in” and “upon” can have different meanings when used in a generic ordinary sense as opposed to the phrase “in or upon” used as a legal term of art. A recent commentator has observed that current legal scholarship criticizes the use of English language dictionaries to define statutory terms.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 23, 2012 02:35 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions