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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

State Supreme Court upholds 2007 verdict

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan Jr.
The Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld a December 2007 wrongful death verdict against Clay Community School Corporation.

It took three hours for jury members to award a $425,000 judgment in favor of Kodi Braden Pipes' parents, who collapsed while shooting free throws during an eighth-grade basketball practice at Clay City Jr.-Sr. High School Nov. 19, 2003.

Although CPR was administered immediately, Pipes was pronounced dead after being transported to the emergency room of St. Vincent Clay Hospital.

Autopsy reports determined Pipes died of post-myocarditis with myocardopathy.

Pipes had blacked out two days prior to the incident. While under doctor's care, Pipes' mother informed the coach he could "walk through plays, but he was not to participate in "running or strenuous activity."

Although Pipes attended school two days without incident and was not officially cleared by a doctor, Pipes participated in a running drill at the practice.

Pipes' parents -- mother Ronna Timberman and father John Pipes II -- filed the wrongful death case against the CCSC in August 2006.

A core issue at the center of the trial -- and part of the appeal process filed by the school corporation -- was whether school officials made sure Pipes had medical clearance before returning to practice and who was responsible for the boy's death.

Although "contributory negligence" has been considered an absolute defense available to governmental entities, including public schools, the jury returned a verdict and damage award in favor of Pipes' parents.

Citing various issues wrong with the trial, attorneys for the CCSC filed an appeal in 2008.

In contention, the lawyers for the CCSC believed the trial court committed reversible errors and abused its discretion, including:

* When -- at the request of Pipes' parents' -- instructions were provided to the jury that Indiana law presumes children 7-14 are "incapable of being negligent in their own deaths,"

* Possible negligence on the part of Pipes' parents were not considered,

* It instructed the jury Pipes' parents had not released Clay City School from its negligence,

* When it instructed the jury Clay City School was required to anticipate and guard against conduct of children in which they may harm themselves or others,

* Instructed the jury it "may" rather than "must" find a verdict for the defendant if it found Pipes contributed to the negligence in his death,

* Instructed the jury on proximate cause, and

* How the cumulative effect of the trial court's erroneous instructions entitled CCSC to a new trial.

On Monday, the 13-page, 5-0 opinion, written by Justice Frank Sullivan Jr. on behalf of the Indiana Supreme Court, was released.

In it, Sullivan wrote the "case requires (the justices) to determine whether Indiana law recognizes a rebuttable presumption that children between the ages of 7 and 14 are incapable of contributory negligence."

Since the jury instruction reflected a legal presumption and correct statement of law running in favor of Pipes, the CCSC had to overcome it by providing proof he was accountable for his actions.

Of the 16 jury instructions submitted by the CCSC, according to Sullivan's document, only Kodi Pipes' decision-making level was considered by the jury.

The court concluded that since the CCSC never presented evidence or included instructions to the jury about considerations concerning any negligence of Pipes' parents in its defense, the issue was waived.

While the court recognized some language in the jury instructions might have been more precise if written differently, it was not enough of an error to reverse the verdict of the jury.

When contacted by The Brazil Times, CCSC Superintendent Dan Schroeder, who was not with the corporation at the time of the 2003 incident, felt he was unable to comment on the judgment and referred all questions to the corporation's attorney, William H. Kelley.

A staff member at Kelley's Bloomington office said he was currently out of town and unable to make a comment about the case until his return.

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This is bad all the way around. I really feel for the family and the loss of their son.

I must ask, are all Indiana schools now responsible for instant medical reports for team players to avoid a future lawsuit? CCSC Needs a better Lawyer.

One more thing to think about. Who is really going to pay for the $425,000 judgement? Answer: the people who pay taxes in Clay County.

No winners in this one.

-- Posted by coltsbeer on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 1:39 AM

You are right on that one, coltsbeer, no winners on this.

IMO, the answer to the question of schools being responsible for students is that they are. From the text, Kodi's mother informed the school that he "could walk through plays", but had not been released by the doctor for strenuous activity. To me, that should have been reason enough for the coaching staff to keep him off of the court altogether.

-- Posted by Leo L. Southworth on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 2:46 AM

True, the coach should have allowed the student to light duty in practices. But, how much pressure was the student under from the parents wanting hime to be a Basketball Hero??????

-- Posted by Taxpayer5253 on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 8:16 AM

This is a terrible thing. I agree with coltsbeer and with Leo. However, I also wonder how much responsibility we can put on teachers/coaches. They are not trained medical professionals. The ultimate responsibility has to fall on parents. We have a choice to keep our children home from school/activities if they are ill. Can we send them to school and expect school staff to 'parent' our kids? This was a horrible tragedy. Lawsuits are for negligent circumstances and I don't see any negligence. I'm sure the parents had no idea that his condition was so severe or they wouldn't have sent him to practice. But if the parents didn't realize, how can we hold school staff members accountable either? Hopefully everyone will learn from this and Parents, if your children are having health issues and doctors have restricted them to no strenuous activity......please don't send them to an athletic practice. Most kids would have done what Kodi did and played anyway. My sympathies to the family and friends of Kodi this holiday season.

-- Posted by just thinking on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 8:19 AM

I'm glad to see a decision has been made in this case. This case sets presidence in contribitory neglegence for Indiana Schools and could also help other families in the same situation.

-- Posted by Criminology08 on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 9:22 AM

So.....what responsibility is the school corporation giving to the coach? If that coach was told point blank that this child was on restriction, how will this coach pay restitution? If the school corporation, tax payers, state of Indiana, etc. has had to, and from the way it sounds, will continue to have to pay for this horrible event, that coach should be excused from coaching, and a lesson should be learned.

The parents have to take responsibility as well, that is sad to "profit" (I hate to use that term in this situation), but hopefully they will take that money to educate coaches, students, children or use the money in researching the cause of that poor boys death. Nothing can replace a childs life, but it would be nice if something good could come of it.

What's the school corp going to do now? Is that coach out of the system? Anyone know?

-- Posted by __2--- on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 11:32 AM

Granted this was a terrible thing for anybody to have to go thru, but my question is what is the large money settlement for?

Medical and funeral expenses I understand, but money for grief, I don't.

-- Posted by VBBoy52 on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 11:36 AM

VBBoy52....precisely my point as well. What is the settlement for? It must be because there was fault with the coach or the emergency precautions we have for athletics. I think the school corp owes parents an explanation.

Unless we question this, who knows is the same procedures still in place? Are other children in jeopardy? That coach must go.

-- Posted by __2--- on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 1:29 PM

I agree with all the opinions on here.

However, $450,000 is a lot of money for a public school to pay out in a situation where they really shouldn't be 100% of the blame.

Honestly, I can't help but wonder about a few details:

How did this boy get to practice? I'm sure he didn't take himself and the school didn't pick him up!

Why did he go at all? I'm a parent and if my child was blacking out, they wouldn't be going to practice at all! they can shoot hoops in the backyard with their dad, so we can watch over him.

And if the pressure from the school or others was to send him to practice, I'd tell them to go to hell. The life of my child is too important!

If my son wanted or pleaded to go, my reply would be you are too valuable to me. You're staying home until a doctor says otherwise.

I'm not calling the parents bad, but there is a point where the lines of grief and opportunist thinking blur for some people.

If parents who win settlements did this so that it wouldn't happen to any other person, where is their advocacy for others! Like that man who does the anti-smoking talks at schools or mothers who talk to teenage girls at school about date rape. The list goes on and on.

Why aren't there more parents (including this boys) speaking out to students, parents, coaching staff and administrators? Anyone who would listen!

That doesn't take money, only motivation and time spent helping others.

I really hope and pray there are plans to do that in the future on behalf of this beautiful young man who died of a tragic illness no one knew he had. Maybe one talk could save another life, a pamphlet could educate about the silent symptoms.

Look at what is happening in football. Players are being encouraged to report other players who have injuries and might not want to tell anyone out of fear they will loose play time or "cred."

Because if they don't do something constructive on behalf of their son, people will begin to make up their own minds about the motives in this situation.

-- Posted by Cy on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 1:53 PM

As I see it just like any industry plays out if you are under doctors care for any restrictions you are done. I mean until you are released from doctors care you don't work or play. ( liability remains on the parents and the school in this matter).

-- Posted by pepper1 on Fri, Dec 4, 2009, at 6:07 PM

I still dont understand why you would send your child to ball practice if they werent suppose to particapate. I kinda feel it was the parnets fault too.

-- Posted by confused33 on Tue, Dec 8, 2009, at 11:46 PM

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