April 12, 2017

No Duty Owed by Bank To Victim of Drunken Driver

Category: Indianapolis Law Club, Personal Injury | Author: | Share:

When someone is injured by a drunken driver, there is often more than the drunken driver to blame for the injuries. But not everyone who interacts with a drunken driver owes a duty to motorists that driver may encounter. For example, a bank which allows a driver to change a flat tire on its property does not owe a duty to other drivers if the person changing the tire is intoxicated.

In the middle of the day in September 2012, Biddle drove into a bank parking lot because he had a flat tire. Bank employees asked Biddle to move to a place where it would be easier to change the tire. Biddle followed their advice, changed the tire, and drove off.

After observing Biddle change his tire, bank employees became concerned that Biddle was intoxicated. But they didn’t see any alcohol containers in the car, did not smell alcohol, and did not observe that Biddle had bloodshot eyes. After he left, the bank’s assistant manager called 911 to report that Biddle may be driving drunk. Biddle was later involved in an accident which injured Neal.

In Neal v. IAB Financial Bank, Neal sued the bank for negligence, arguing that the bank employees negligently allowed Biddle to change his tire and get back on the road. The bank moved for summary judgment, arguing it owed Neal no duty, and the trial court granted that motion.

On appeal, the Court noted that the Indiana Supreme Court recently dealt with similar issues in premises liability cases in Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016), and Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316 (Ind. 2016). Those cases disapproved of the traditional Webb three-part test for determining a duty when the issues involve a landowner-invitee relationship. As this case did not deal with such a relationship (since Biddle did not do any banking during his visit), the Court found they didn’t apply.

When applying the Webb test, the Court first looked to the relationship between the parties. And the Court did not believe the relationship was one in which the bank would have assumed a duty for Biddle’s behavior.

As the bank was “not charged with the supervision or protection” of Biddle, and “had no right to control” Biddle’s actions, there was no special relationship between Biddle and the bank.

The Court next turned to the question of foreseeability. In particular, the Court focused on whether a financial institution should take precautions to protect motorists on the public roadways from the potential of a stranded motorist being intoxicated, before it gratuitously attempts to render aid to that stranded motorist. And while there are more people who drive while intoxicated than we may want,

we cannot say drunk drivers routinely stop at places of business seeking aid during the middle of the day. … To require every individual who undertakes to aid a stranded motorist to safeguard against the possibility that motorist may be intoxicated … would be requiring those individuals to ensure the safety of all motorists. We do not believe reasonable persons would recognize such a duty exists.

Finally, the Court found that public policy “weighed heavily” against finding the bank owed Neal a duty. The bank called 911 for the purpose of ensuring the safety of Biddle and other motorists.

The Court also did not want to dis-incentivize people from helping other stranded motorists. Put simply, the Court did not want to hold that people are responsible “to ensure the safety of intoxicated person with whom they have unexpectedly come into contact.”

Thus, there was no duty, and the trial court’s decision was affirmed.

Lessons

  1. Recent decisions regarding duties in premises liability cases may not apply in other contexts.
  2. Indiana does not recognize a responsibility on the part of a person to ensure the safety of intoxicated persons with whom they have unexpectedly come into contact.

Read the full February 23, 2017 Law Club Handout or listen to the recording here.