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‘INFERRED INTENT’ DOCTRINE -- High court rules on deer-prank suit

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  • pat scala
    By Carol Ann Lease THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH The Ohio Supreme Court said yesterday that a trial court was wrong when it applied a doctrine known as “inferred
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2010
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      By Carol Ann Lease

      THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
      The Ohio Supreme Court said yesterday that a trial court was wrong when it
      applied a doctrine known as “inferred intent” to dismiss a civil lawsuit over a
      crash caused by a foam deer that pranksters left in a roadway.

      Robert Roby, 18, and his passenger, 17-year-old Dustin Zachariah, were seriously
      injured in 2005 when Roby swerved to avoid the foam deer. A group of Kenton High
      School student-athletes had put the deer, which is typically used for practicing
      shooting or archery, just below the crest of a hill on a Hardin County road
      after dark to watch the reaction of drivers.

      Roby and Zachariah sued for damages, but insurance companies for the teens
      involved in the prank argued that they didn’t have to pay any money or defend
      the pranksters because their policies stated they were not liable for
      intentional harm.

      The Franklin County Common Pleas Court agreed with the insurers. It did not find
      that the Kenton High School boys intended to harm anyone, but said that intent
      was inferred because the prank was very likely to hurt someone. The Franklin
      County Court of Appeals disagreed, and the insurance companies appealed to the
      Supreme Court.

      Justice Judith Ann Lansinger wrote in the lead opinion that intent to cause harm
      can be inferred only when harm is the only thing that could result from the act,
      such as when a child is molested.

      “We cannot say as a matter of law that the act of placing a target deer in a
      road in the manner done here necessarily results in harm,” she wrote. “Indeed,
      other cars had passed by and avoided the target.”

      The ruling means that it will be up to a Common Pleas judge or jury to determine
      whether the boys intended or expected harm and whether the insurance policies
      provide coverage.

      clease@...

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