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Neal v. IAB Financial Bank

Court of Appeals of Indiana

February 2, 2017

Rachel Neal, Appellant-Plaintiff,
IAB Financial Bank, f/k/a Grabill Bank, Appellee-Defendant.

         Appeal from the Allen Superior Court The Honorable David J. Avery, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 02D09-1409-CT-446

          Attorneys for Appellant Karl J. Veracco Larry L. Barnard Carson Boxberger LLP

          Attorneys for Appellee Scott L. Bunnell Andrew S. Williams Michelle K. Floyd

          May, Judge.

          [¶1] Rachel Neal appeals a summary judgment in favor of IAB Financial Bank ("the Bank"). She argues the trial court erred in finding the Bank owed no duty toward her.[1] We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] On September 27, 2012, Gabriel Biddle drove into the Bank's parking lot because he had a flat tire. Bank employees suggested Biddle move his car into the farthest teller lane because it would be easier to change the tire there. To do so, he entered the teller lane through the exit. He moved his car without difficulty or complications.

         [¶3] The Bank employees who spoke with Biddle said he appeared "somewhat unaware and unsettled, " (Appellee's App. at 6), but they assumed he was frustrated with needing to change the tire. They did not see any alcohol containers in the car, observe that his eyes were bloodshot, or smell alcohol. They did not suspect he was intoxicated. They did not take possession of Biddle's keys or exert any control over his car. The Bank employees testified they were not trained, as part of their jobs, to identify whether an individual is intoxicated.

         [¶4] The Bank employees helped Biddle change his tire, and afterward they noticed he "kind of staggered." (Id.) Biddle got into his car and left the Bank property. After he left, the Bank employees questioned whether there was something wrong with Biddle and began to speculate he might have been drinking. The Bank's assistant manager, Tyler Shawgo, called 911 to report the Bank employees' suspicion that Biddle "might be driving drunk." (Appellant's App. at 54.) During the 911 call, Shawgo told the dispatcher Biddle "just didn't kinda [sic] seem to know what was going on . . . he just did not seem all O.K. - he was kind of staggering and wasn't really aware of what was . . . ." (Id. at 55.) The dispatcher asked Shawgo "so he appeared like he had been drinking?" and Shawgo replied "Mmmm-hmmmm." (Id.) Biddle was later involved in a traffic accident that injured Neal.

         [¶5] Neal sued the Bank, [2] alleging she would not have been injured in the accident but for the Bank employees' negligent act of helping Biddle change his tire so he could get back on the road. She claimed the Bank assumed a duty of care toward her and other motorists when its employees helped change the tire. The trial court granted the Bank's motion for summary judgment. It determined that under Indiana law, a party cannot be held liable for a drunk driver causing injuries to a third party unless it furnished the drunk driver alcohol, maintained a legal right to control the vehicle, or had a special relationship with the other parties.

         Discussion and Decision

          [¶6] We review summary judgment using the same standard as the trial court: summary judgment is appropriate only where the designated evidence shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316, 320 (Ind. 2016). All facts and reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the non-moving party. City of Beech Grove v. Beloat, 50 N.E.3d 135, 137 (Ind. 2016). Where the challenge to summary judgment raises questions of law, we review them de novo. Rogers, 63 N.E.3d at 320.

          [¶7] To prevail on a claim of negligence, Neal must demonstrate (1) the Bank owed a duty to Neal; (2) the Bank breached that duty by allowing its conduct to fall below the applicable standard of care; and (3) the Bank's breach of duty proximately caused a compensable injury to Neal. Id. at 321. Absent a duty, there can be no breach. Id. The trial court found the Bank had no duty to Neal.

          [¶8] Neal contends the trial court erred in entering summary judgment in favor of the Bank on the premise it had no duty. Specifically, she argues "the Bank gratuitously assumed a duty when its employees acted to assist a visibly intoxicated Biddle to change his tire." (Appellant's Br. at 6.) The Bank argues it assumed no duty to Neal because it "did not specifically and deliberately undertake any service or obligation to ensure Biddle, Neal, or other drivers on the public roadway were safe from drunk drivers." (Appellee's Br. at 16.)

          [¶9] Whether a duty exists is a question of law for the court to decide. Rogers, 63 N.E.3d at 321. We therefore review de novo whether the Bank owed Neal a duty. See id. at 320 (reviewing existence of duty de novo). Where the element of duty has "already been declared or otherwise articulated, " judicial determination of the existence of a duty is unnecessary. Id. In determining whether a duty exists when it has not been established by law, we use a three-part balancing test under which we consider: (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm, and (3) public policy concerns. Webb v. Jarvis, 575 N.E.2d 992, 995 (Ind.Ct.App. 1991), disapproved in other circumstances by Goodwin v. Yeakle's Sports Bar and Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384, 391 (Ind. 2016) (holding the Webb v. Jarvis three-part test for determining the existence of a duty is inappropriate in landowner-invitee cases).[3] We examine each factor in turn.

         (1) Relationship between the Parties

          [¶10] When addressing the duty to control the conduct of others, Indiana courts generally follow the principles set forth in the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which states:

There is no duty so to control the conduct of a third person as to prevent him from causing physical harm ...

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