COA reverses summary judgment order in case involving IU student hit by falling window

Whether a window that fell and struck an Indiana University student in a campus building was under the control and management of the university constitutes a genuine issue of material fact, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in reversing a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment.

According to court records, Kiera Isgrig was a student at Indiana University in April 2018 and studying for final exams with her friends in Francis Morgan Swain Hall.

Isgrig sat at a table with her friends with her back to the wall. Mounted in the wall was an exterior window.

As Isgrig sat with her friends, the window fell out of the wall and landed on Isgrig’s head. The glass in the window shattered, leaving glass shards over Isgrig and the table at which she was sitting.

Isgrig’s friends drove her to the emergency room.

An investigation revealed that the university conducted only reactive maintenance on its windows and did not perform any preventive maintenance.

The last time the university had repaired the window in question was in March 2017, in response to a work order stating that the blinds would not raise.

Repairing the blinds would have required the maintenance staff to remove the window from its casing, at which time any other faults, such as broken sash springs, would have been repaired.

On April 23, 2020, Isgrig filed a complaint against the university alleging negligence and relying on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The university moved for summary judgment in June 2022.

It argued that it had neither actual nor constructive knowledge regarding any issue with the window, that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur did not relieve Isgrig of proving that the university had either actual or constructive knowledge of an issue with the window, and that the university did not have exclusive control of the window, thereby rendering res ipsa loquitur inapplicable.

Isgrig argued that the window was under the exclusive control or management of the University and that, under the facts of this case, res ipsa loquitur allows an inference of negligence on the part of the university.

The Monroe Circuit Court held a hearing and entered an order granting the university’s motion for summary judgment.

Isgrig appealed and argued that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of the university because the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur applies to fixtures in premises liability cases, and that, given the broad definition of “exclusive control,” there is at least a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the window was under the exclusive control and management of the university at the time it fell on her.

The appellate court agreed and reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the university and remanded the case.

Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote the opinion for the appellate court.

Tavitas wrote that there was evidence that the university exercised exclusive control and management over the window at the time it fell out of the wall.

The appellate judge noted that the court could not say that a window suddenly falling out of a wall — with no one interacting with it — is the sort of thing that can occur absent negligence.

“We acknowledge that the window was in a position such that others could access it by raising and lowering the windowpanes or the internal window blinds. But a trier of fact could reasonably conclude that this should not cause a window to fall out of a wall absent negligence,” Tavitas wrote.

According to Tavitas, the appellate court concluded that the designated evidence, including the fact that the university performed no preventive maintenance on the window, created a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the university can be liable for the injuries caused by the window inexplicably falling from the wall and hitting Isgrig.

“The trial court, thus, erred by granting summary judgment to the University,” Tavitas wrote.

Judges Rudolph Pyle and Peter Foley concurred in Kiera Isgrig v. Trustees of Indiana University, 23A-CT-1332.•

This article was first published in The Indiana Lawyer.

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