Franciose v. Jones

First crash

Late in the afternoon on December 13, 2003, Ray Ramirez, his fiancee Jamie Morris, and Aaron Jones, were returning in Ray’s pickup from a trip to Bloomington, Indiana. (J.Appp. 86, 88) The weather was freezing cold, in the single digits. (J.App. 87, 171) Snow started to fall about an hour into the trip in line with forecasts for bad weather and reports heard on the radio. (J.App. 88-89) As the three traveled north on I-65, they saw a van that had slipped off the left side of the highway, and then a car off the right side of the road. (J.App. 89) Shortly before 5 p.m., the three were approaching a bridge, up a hill just south of Demotte, while snow swirled in the headlights. (J.App. 90) Ramirez knew that bridges became icy in such weather conditions, that the cruise-control would speed up the engine as they went up the hill on the bridge, and that this made it probable they would lose traction. (J.App. 211-214) but Ramirez kept the cruise-control engaged and headed up the bridge. (J.App. 90, 211) the truck started to slide and Ramirez tried to spin the wheel; he lost control, hit the concrete barrier on the right side of the bridge, spun around completely, hit the barrier on the other side of the ridge and ended up with the pickup perpendicular to the highway, completely blocking the fast lane on the bridge, which had only two lanes in either direction. (J.App. 90-91; R.App. 77) After the airbags deployed, the inside of the truck filled with smoke. (J.App. 91) Thinking it was on fire, all three got out of the truck, emergency lights flashing, and headed back south, walking down the bridge to a grassy area in the median. (Id. J.App. 91) They watched semi-trucks skid by the disabled pickup, missing it by inches or less. (Id.) Jamie Morris expected a driver would slam into the pickup, and someone would be killed. (R.App. 47)

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A reasonable jury could find that danger remained present.

Ramirez’s argument also assumes that “Jones was not reacting to an existing emergency.” (Br. at 7) This argument is either patently false or depends upon mere word play, restricting emergencies to situations only involving physical injury. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “emergency” as:

A sudden unexpected happening; an unforeseen occurrence or condition; perplexing contingency or complication of circumstances; a sudden or unexpected occasion for action; exigency; pressing necessity. Emergency is an unforeseen combination of circumstances that calls for immediate action without time for full deliberation.

BLACKS LAW DICTIONARY at 522-523 (6th ed. 1990) (citation omitted)

Nothing in this definition requires blood on the ground or broken bones for an emergency to exist. Here, the danger was manifest. It was dark. Northbound I-65 at the bridge was icy. Ramirez’s pickup was jutting out into the Interstate, blocking the fast lane. The testimony of Jamie Morris, Ramirez’s fiancee, dramatically reflected the danger: as she watched semi-trucks skid past within inches of the pickup, she thought somebody was going to get killed.

With the passage of a few minutes — perhaps fifteen, perhaps less — the danger partly and temporarily subsided. Aaron and Morris testified to two tractor-trailers slowly going up the rise to the bridge, and traffic backing up behind them. Testimony differed as to whether one or both lanes were blocked. Either way, the semis were moving and would pass the crash site sooner or later. The danger had not passed, but there was a moment when moving the pickup off the Interstate seemed reasonable to Aaron. It was left to the jury to decide whether Aaron’s actions were reasonable, and, thus, foreseeable, in the face of existing danger.

A reasonable jury could find that Aaron acted to save lives.

Ramirez’s argument also falsely assumes that Aaron only acted to save Ramirez’s truck, rather than human lives. But the danger was not restricted to mere property damage. Even if, as Ramirez argues, the rescue doctrine only applies to situations involving the saving of life and limb, it is applicable in this case where the danger to oncoming drivers, as well as to the Good Samaritan Danielle, was very much present. In fact, Ramirez himself states that Aaron and other motorists “decided to move the truck so that it would not block traffic or continue to create a hazard to others.” (Br. at 3) This admission cannot be squared with his assertion that Aaron “was not reacting to an existing or imminent danger to human life.” (Br. at 7)