Torts – Guest Act – Negligent Conduct of the Driver

Plaintiff was a gratuitous passenger in an automobile driven by defendant. Defendant, intending to coast to his destination, turned off the ignition, removed the key, and placed it in his pocket. The removal of the key caused the steering gear to lock, and defendant was unable to avoid a collision with a tree. Plaintiff suffered injuries and brought suit. Evidence was adduced to show that in defendant’s type of automobile the steering wheel was so constructed as to lock upon removal of the key. Testimony revealed that defendant understood the general operation of the lock, but that the particular mechanism on his car had never worked previously. Even though the Indiana guest act bars recovery for injuries to a guest unless caused by “willful or wanton misconduct” of the driver, the trial court found defendant liable. On appeal, held, reversed. The case was not a question for the jury. Wanton or reckless conduct, within the meaning of the Indiana guest act, means a conscious persistence in negligent conduct in the face of a known danger. Sausaman v. Leininger, (Ind. App. 1956) 137 N.E. (2d) 547.