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Law School Case Brief

Yost v. Wabash Coll. - 3 N.E.3d 509 (Ind. 2014)

Rule:

The essential elements for a negligence action are: (1) a duty owed to a plaintiff by a defendant, (2) a breach of the duty, and (3) an injury proximately caused by the breach of duty. Where there is no duty, there can be no breach, and thus a party cannot be found negligent. Whether the duty exists is generally a question of law for a court. In making this determination, a three-part balancing test developed by the Supreme Court of Indiana can be a useful tool. However, this test is only needed in those instances where an element of duty is not already declared or otherwise articulated. Where an alleged duty is well-established, there is no need for a new judicial redetermination of duty.

Facts:

Plaintiff Brian Yost, as an 18-year-old freshman at defendant Wabash College ("Wabash") and a pledge at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, suffered injuries in an incident at the fraternity house in Sept. 2007. Contending that his injuries resulted from a fraternity hazing incident, Yost filed a lawsuit in Indiana state court seeking damages from defendants Wabash (the owner and landlord of the fraternity house), the campus local fraternity (Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity—Indiana Gamma Chapter at Wabash College), the national fraternity (Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Inc.), and Nathan Cravens, one of the fraternity members. The court granted summary judgment in favor of all defendants. Yost appealed; the appeal was transferred from a state appellate court to the state supreme court.

Issue:

Can any defendant be held liable for the injuries sustained by Yost in a fraternity-hazing incident? 

Answer:

Yes, for the local fraternity; no, for Wabash and the national fraternity.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed in part and reversed in part the trial court's judgment and remanded the cause to the trial court for further proceedings. The court held that Wabash was not liable because it did not have a general or assumed duty to protect Yost, a fraternity pledge, from the injuries allegedly sustained in a hazing incident at the local fraternity's house, and there was no agency relationship between the local fraternity and Wabash. The court further held that the national fraternity was not liable because it had no general or assumed duty and there was no agency relationship between it and the local fraternity. However, the court held that the local fraternity could be subject to liability because the undisputed designated evidence possibly showed that the local fraternity undertook to render supervisory services intended to reduce the risk of harm to members, that upon which supervision Yost relied, and that by failing to exercise reasonable care the local fraternity increased the risk of harm to Yost.

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