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Johnson v. Jacobs

Indiana Court of Appeals
970 N.E.2d 666 (2011)


Facts

In the midst of a divorce, flight student Eric Johnson crashed a Cessna into his mother-in-law’s house with his eight-year-old daughter aboard. Neither survived. Beth Johnson (plaintiff) sued flight instructor Tony Newbold, the Lawrence County Aviation Board, and the County Commissioners (defendants) for her daughter’s wrongful death. Beth claimed that failing to properly secure the airplane and allowing Johnson to take off without a flight instructor, with a passenger, when he was not qualified or certified, proximately caused the crash. Eric had obtained keys from an employee who recognized him as a flight student with a scheduled flying lesson that day. But instead of taxiing out and waiting for an instructor, Eric took off with his daughter aboard. He called Beth three times during flight, yelling and cursing. Twenty minutes later, two witnesses saw the Cessna approach the airport as if it were going to land, except it had wind at its tail and no landing flaps down. An experienced pilot heard the engine throttle increase, then the plane banked hard and nosed down at 45 degrees into Beth’s mother’s house. The National Transportation Safety Committee ruled suicide the probable cause of the crash. The trial court concluded that Eric’s intentional criminal acts provided superseding intervening cause, severing any causal connection between any alleged negligence and the crash, and granted summary judgment against Beth. Beth appealed, arguing that the trial court erroneously concluded that Eric committed suicide and murdered his daughter, although the crash could have been accidental.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Baker, J.)

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