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Indiana Consol. Ins. Co. v. Mathew

    Brief Fact Summary. This is an appeal from Indiana Consolidated Insurance (Appellant) that claimed that Robert D. Mathew (Appellee) acted negligently and contributed to the destruction, by fire, of his brother’s garage when a riding lawnmower ignited.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The central concept illustrated by this case is the sudden emergency doctrine which holds that when a person is confronted with an emergency not of his or her own making, he is expected to act in the same manner as that of the ordinary, prudent person and cannot be charged as negligent when acting in accordance with his or her best judgment.

    Facts. Appellee was attempting to start a riding lawnmower in his brother’s garage when the lawnmower caught fire. Appellee tried, unsuccessfully, to extinguish the flames. He then ran to his home to call the fire department. He returned to discover the garage completely engulfed. Indiana Consolidated Insurance sued Appellee, alleging that he negligently breached the duty to exercise due care in starting the lawnmower and thus was liable for the resulting damages.

    Issue. Is a person considered to be negligent if he acts in his best judgment, and that judgment is consistent with that of an ordinary prudent person?

    Held. Appellee was not negligent as he exercised the judgment of an ordinary, prudent person.

    Discussion. A person is deemed negligent when his/her conduct results in an unreasonable risk of harm. In assessing reasonableness, a court will consider a number of factors, primarily how another, in the same circumstances, would likely act. This is known as the reasonable person standard, i.e., the ordinary and prudent judgment a reasonable person would exercise. Here, the question is how a reasonable person would react when an emergency suddenly arises. A court will, as here, examine the person’s conduct leading up to the emergency. Here, the court found that Appellee exercised the due care that an ordinary, prudent person would “under the same or similar circumstances.” The court held that he did, and upheld the lower court’s ruling.


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