By Deb Patterson
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Court of Appeals has affirmed a Kosciusko Circuit Court jury’s ruling against Atta Helman and her son, Larry Helman, in a lawsuit stemming from the Aug. 25, 2014, shooting death of Gary Helman. The decision was issued Monday, Aug. 9.
A jury found the defendants were not at fault for the incident. The defendants are Barnett’s Bail Bonds Inc., bondsmen Tadd S. Martin, Daniel S. Foster, Michael C. Thomas and Lexington National Insurance Corporation.
The Helmans resided in Enchanted Hills at the time of the incident. Both Atta and Larry Helman are shown in court documents as residing on CR 37 in New Paris.
Gary Helman, Atta’s son and Larry’s twin brother, was shot and killed by bail recovery agents in a gunfight Aug. 25, 2014, during an attempt by bail bondsmen to apprehend him on outstanding warrants.
The original complaint alleged multiple intentional torts, including assault and trespass against the bondsmen as well as negligence and vicarious liability.
The appeal case raised the question if the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted certain evidence, if it abused its discretion when it instructed the jury and if it abused its discretion when it submitted verdict forms to the jury.
The court of appeals found the Helmans waived their first contention for review as to whether the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted evidence criminal charges had not been filed against the three bondsmen – Martin, Foster or Thomas.
The court also concluded the Helmans had not met their burden on appeal to show the trial court abused its discretion when it refused their proffered instruction No. 62. “We note that the Helmans’ ‘primary concern’ on appeal is that the jury was not instructed that bail bondsmen do not have any authority to harm third parties to a bond contract … As the trial court stated, ‘obviously the jury was not instructed that a bail agent has any rights to infringe on a third party just like no one has the rights to infringe on a third party.’”
The final conclusion by the appeals court is the trial court had not abused its discretion when it failed to include the verdict forms in a way for the jury to assign percentages of fault to the parties under the Comparative Fault Act. Because the jury found none of the defendants were liable to the Helmans, there was no need to provide for the allocation of fault on the verdict forms.
The court notes “Nothing in the act requires that a jury allocate fault in the liability phase of a trial. And the Helmans’ sole contention on appeal is that the verdict forms were defective. They make no contention that the trial court should have, but failed to, ‘instruct’ the jury on the act. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it submitted verdict forms to the jury.”