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Summary Judgment for Steak ‘n Shake in Patron's Shooting Reversed

By Jack H. FarnbauchJuly 1, 2018

In December 2012, Amber Hamilton and her brother Dustyn were at an Indianapolis Steak ‘n Shake when another group of people, including Ricky Jackson, entered the restaurant. Jackson began harassing the siblings because of Dustyn’s sexual orientation and tried to provoke Dustyn into fighting him.

A server and a cook working that evening were aware of an ongoing argument but did not call for help until 30 minutes later when it seemed the argument would turn physical. The cook, who was acting as the manager, asked both groups to leave, but they ignored her and a fight ensued between the feuding men.

Amber Hamilton began to try to break up the fight until Jackson shot her point blank in the face, causing serious injuries. She survived, but filed a negligence suit against Steak ‘n Shake, alleging the restaurant failed “to take affirmative action to control the wrongful act of third parties.”

Steak ‘n Shake filed a motion for summary judgment, which was initially denied but granted more than a year later on a motion to reconsider. Amber Hamilton appealed the decision to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Amicus petitions from both the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association and Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana were filed in support of Hamilton’s appeal.  

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in Amber Hamilton v. Steak ‘n Shake Operations Inc., 49A02-1704-CT-776, in light of recent Indiana Supreme Court caselaw. Specifically, Judge Robert Altice wrote that the cases of Goodwin v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar & Grill, Inc., 62 N.E.3d 384 (Ind. 2016) (a recent blog here on Sweeneylawfirm.com) and Rogers v. Martin, 63 N.E.3d 316 (Ind. 2016), establish the analytical framework for deciding the case. Those cases evaluated foreseeability as it relates to the duty a landowner owes an invitee in negligence actions and determined that a “foreseeability analysis should focus on the general class of persons of which the plaintiff was a member and whether the harm suffered was of a kind normally to be expected — without addressing the specific facts of the occurrence.”

In applying that caselaw, the Court ruled that the 30-minute buildup to the fight amounted to foreseeable harm and that Amber Hamilton was a patron that Steak ‘n Shake was required to protect upon recognizing the foreseeable harm. The case was remanded back to the trial court so that Amber Hamilton may potentially get her day in court. 

You can read more here.