Indiana Supreme Court and the Guest Statute
by: David J. Cutshaw, Attorney
The Indiana Supreme Court recently issued an interesting decision in Clark v. Clark, 971 N.E. 58 (2012) involving an injury to the son of a driver who was directing the driver into a parking space. In that case, the father (driver of the car) was directed by his son to stop in the parking space, but the father hit the accelerator instead of the brake and pinned the son between two cars, severely injuring the son. The legal issue in the case was whether Indiana’s Guest Statute (I.C. 34-30-11-1) prevented the son from recovering against his father for the injuries he sustained in the accident.
In essence, the Guest Statute prevents a relative or friend (or even a hitch hiker) who is being transported in or on a vehicle from recovering for personal injuries even when the driver was negligent. There were several policies behind the statute, including the fear that there may be some sort of collusion between family members or friends to recover for injuries or the fear that litigation between family members would not promote family harmony, among others. The Guest Statute would allow recovery by the friend or family member for injuries in a car accident only if the driver’s conduct was wanton or willful (or reckless.)
The lawyers for the father/driver argued that the Guest Statute applied because the injured son was around the car when the accident happened. The lawyers for the son argued that the statute means what it says–the relative has to be in or on the vehicle to prevent the son from recovering his damages. The Supreme Court sided with the son and stated the statute requires the relative to be transported in or on the vehicle. Because the son was not in or on the car (and indeed was under the car after he was struck), the son was permitted to recover damages and the Guest Statute did not apply.