November 22, 2019

Minor who Skips School to Engage in Criminal Conduct Is Contributorily Negligent

Category: Indianapolis Law Club | Author: | Share:

Comparative fault does not apply to claims under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, so any contributory negligence bars a plaintiff’s recovery. The question posed by this case is whether this still applies if the plaintiff is a minor.

Murray was a 16-year-old boy who attended Arlington High School. One day in February 2016, he left the school grounds without permission to engage in criminal conduct. After he left school, Murray was murdered.

Murray’s estate brought a claim against the school for negligent supervision and monitoring. The school moved for summary judgment, arguing both that they were immune and that Murray was contributorily negligent. The trial court granted that motion, but the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that there were material issues of fact that prevented summary judgment. The Indiana Supreme Court then granted transfer.

On transfer, the Court avoided the immunity question because it found that the contributory negligence issue was dispositive. In particular, the Court found that while contributory negligence should be measured by “that degree of care and caution which an ordinary, reasonable, and prudent person in a similar situation would exercise,” minors who are 14 or older “are chargeable with exercising the standard of care of an adult” unless there are special circumstances.

In this case, no one had argued that there were any special circumstances, so Murray was “charged with exercising the reasonable care an adult would.” And the Court concluded that a reasonable adult would not leave school to engage in criminal activity.

While a sixteen-year-old may not know all the perils that await him off of school grounds, he certainly knew there was danger in either of those [criminal] ventures.

Thus, Murray was contributorily negligent. As this was a complete defense for the school, it was entitled to summary judgment.

Lessons:

1. A minor who is 14 or older is judged by the same contributory negligence standard as an adult.
2. A 16-year-old who ventures off school grounds to commit criminal acts is contributorily negligent if he gets injured as a result.