Chesterton Tribune



Court rules that cyclist hit by officer may sue town

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A bicyclist injured in 2014 when she was struck by an on-duty Chesterton Police officer while she was crossing Lute Road in Portage may sue the Town of Chesterton as well as the Porter County Drug Task Force (DTF), to which the officer had been assigned at the time of the accident.

So ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals on Monday.

The ruling overturns a summary judgment against the bicyclist issued by Porter Superior Court Judge Roger Bradford, who found that the “presumption of negligence” on the bicyclist’s part barred her from seeking damages against the town and DTF.

The accident occurred on July 9, 2014, as bicyclist Sheila Gonzalez was attempting to cross Lute Road while traveling the Prairie Duneland Trail. According to court documents, Gonzalez had stopped for a line of vehicles, then proceeded across when she thought it was clear, only to be struck by Office Sara Ritz’s eastbound vehicle.

On Sept. 25, 2017, Bradford granted motions for summary judgment filed by the town and DTF, on the ground that in Indiana “even a slight degree of negligence on the part of (the bicyclist), if proximately contributing to her claimed damages, will operate as a complete bar to the Gonzalazes’ action for damages.”

Both the town and the DTF argued that in two ways Gonzalez was presumptively negligent: that Indiana Code requires bicyclists to stop for all posted stop signs--like the one on the Prairie Duneland Trail at the intersection of Lute Road; and that a bicyclist may not, just as a motorist may not, start moving after stopping until movement can be made with reasonable safety.

The Court of Appeals, however, suggested that the town and DTF’s reasoning in this matter is circular: that “one must essentially be found negligent to trigger the presumption of negligence, rendering the presumption inapplicable and superfluous.” For that reason, the Court of Appeals ruled, “we reject (the town and DTF’s) assertion that presumption of negligence stemming from the violation of a safety statute has any part to play in this case.”

On the contrary, the Court of Appeals accepted Gonzalez’s argument that the case should go to court for a trying of the evidence. “While the Gonzalezes implicitly concede that there is designated evidence from which a jury could find that (she) was contributorily negligent, they argue that the designated evidence would also permit a finding that she was not. Viewing the designated evidence in a light most favorable to the Gonzalezes, we conclude that they are correct.”

Among other things, the Court of Appeals took note of Gonzalez’s testimony “that it was her practice while riding a bicycle always to stop at all intersections and look both ways before crossing”; and the testimony of her two children, biking with her, that “Ritz’s vehicle was traveling faster than the other traffic on the road.”

“A factfinder could possibly conclude from the above that (Gonzalez) complied with the standard of ordinary care but nevertheless failed to see the approaching Ritz, and/or incorrectly concluded that the fast-moving vehicle was too far away to pose a threat,” the Court of Appeals stated.

The town and the DTF, for their parts, argued that Gonzalez’s testimony concerning her bicycling habits “was immaterial and very likely inadmissible to boot”; that her children’s testimony that their mother “did nothing wrong” is similarly inadmissible “as opinion testimony”; and that in any case “it is undisputed that Lute Road was not ‘clear’ when (Gonzalez) entered it,” that the fact that she did stop at Lute Road “is not evidence that she kept a proper lookout for hazards, and that “the undisputed fact that (her) view was unobstructed allows only the inference that she saw Ritz’s vehicle approaching.”

These arguments the Court of Appeals rejected: “Whatever value these arguments might have if made to a jury, our job is only to evaluate the designated evidence to the extent necessary for deciding whether it generates a genuine issue of material fact, precluding summary judgment. We have concluded it does.”



Posted 5/22/2018




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