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Indiana Supreme Court Hears Arguments on Power Company’s Liability for Malfunctioning Stoplight

By Jack H. FarnbauchApril 1, 2020

On March 19, 2020, the Indiana Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments on the question of whether a utility company may face liability for people injured in a traffic crash in which a malfunctioning stop light played a role. The case was Kenyon Tyus, Jr., et al. v. Indianapolis Power & Light Co., et al. Previously, a unanimous Indiana Court of Appeals panel reversed judgment entered for Indianapolis Power & Light (IPL) on a claim of negligence brought by Kenyon and Amber Tyus, along with their children Kenyon Jr., Kyrie and Keyon.

The Tyuses sued IPL after Amber and her kids were involved in an accident that left them with catastrophic injuries. Traffic signals at an intersection Amber was passing through had been inoperable for about eight hours after a storm in April 2016, when her vehicle was T-boned by an oncoming vehicle. A Marion SuperiorCourt  judge granted judgment on the pleadings to IPL on the family’s claim for negligence, but not on their claim for gross negligence. The appellate court later affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded, ruling that the Tyuses may proceed on both claims.

At oral arguments, attorney Joseph Wendt argued that the appellate court’s decision imposes on IPL and all other utilities virtually unlimited tort liability, which would impact both consumers and utilities negatively. 

Attorney Jonathon Noyes, representing the Tyuses, argued the contrary and asked the justices to deny transfer in the case. Noyes argued that the Appeals Court correctly applied a centuries-old precedent in holding that IPL has a common law duty of care to the Tyus family.

You can read more about the oral arguments here