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In many Indiana personal injury cases, one or more parties files a motion for summary judgment before the witnesses are sworn and the actual trial begins. By filing a motion for summary judgment, a party is asking the trial judge to make a determination that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, the filing party is claiming that when the judge considers all of the uncontested evidence, the non-moving party could not prevail under the applicable law.

Wet FloorImportantly, when there is conflicting evidence regarding a material issue in the case, summary judgment is not appropriate, and the case will be permitted to proceed toward a jury trial. A recent case illustrates how courts view defense summary judgment motions, and the type of evidence necessary to survive such a motion.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her husband were shopping when at the defendant grocery store. At some point during their shopping trip, the plaintiff left her husband to use the restroom. On her way back to find her husband, the plaintiff slipped on a “brownish, oily substance.” As a result of the fall, the plaintiff suffered serious injuries and later filed a premises liability lawsuit against the store.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case that raises an interesting issue confronting many Indiana car accident plaintiffs. The case required the court to determine if the plaintiff’s insurance company was required to provide underinsured motorist coverage in an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage. Ultimately, the court took a close look at the insurance policy’s language before determining that the policy did not cover the accident.

HorsesThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a passenger on a horse-drawn carriage that had just finished participating in a Christmas parade. After the parade, and while on the way back to the plaintiff’s vehicle, the carriage was rear-ended by another vehicle. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries as a result of the collision.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against several parties, but relevant to this discussion, a claim was filed against his own insurance policy under the policy’s underinsured motorist clause. That clause provided coverage for an accident involving “a land motor vehicle or trailer of any type” with inadequate insurance coverage. The policy also defined the term “trailer” as a vehicle that was designed to be pulled by a car, truck, or van.

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In Indiana personal injury cases, before a case reaches trial, it will likely go through the summary judgment stage. Summary judgment is a process in which either party can ask the court to rule in their favor before witnesses are sworn or evidence is considered. Essentially, the court reviews the pleadings, accepting all uncontested facts as true, and then makes a determination if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Produce AisleIn order to survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff must be able to show that there is some material fact that needs to be resolved by the jury. A recent case illustrates how a court’s job in determining whether summary judgment is appropriate can be a difficult one.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was grocery shopping with her husband at the defendant’s store. The plaintiff put a bottle of Sunny Delight into their cart, and the couple continued shopping. Shortly afterward, the plaintiff left to find a restroom. Her husband continued to shop. It wasn’t until later that he noticed that the Sunny Delight bottle had been leaking.

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Under Indiana law, the owners of dogs can be held liable for injuries caused by their pets. It is important to understand the type of Indiana dog bite claim that is being brought because the requirements vary depending on several factors.

Dog GrowlingIndiana Code section 15-20-1-3 discusses a situation in which a mail carrier, police officer, or other person carrying out official business is bitten by a dog. Under section 15-20-1-3, the owner of a dog can be held strictly liable, meaning that there does not need to be a showing that they were in any way negligent. However, strict liability will not be appropriate if the victim provoked the dog or if they were in a place where they were not required to be in order to perform their legal duties.

While section 15-20-1-3 applies in some cases, situations are more common when an ordinary citizen is bitten by a dog, not necessarily while they are in the performance of official duties. In these situations, a dog bite victim may still be able to recover compensation for their injuries under a common-law theory of negligence. In Indiana, most dog bite cases rely on the one-bite rule, which allows for a dog bite victim to hold an animal’s owner liable for injuries caused by the dog when the victim can establish that the owner knew or should have known that the animal was dangerous.

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Recently, a state supreme court issued an opinion in a personal injury case presenting an important issue for Indiana premises liability plaintiffs. The case raised the question of whether a landowner – in this case, a local government – is entitled to immunity under a recreational-use statute when the land in question is used for both recreational and non-recreational purposes. Ultimately, the court held that land need not be solely used for recreational purposes in order for immunity to attach.

Bike PathThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff and her niece were riding their bicycles along a non-motorized asphalt trail. As the two were riding, they passed a ride-on lawnmower cutting grass along the trail’s edge. The mower was kicking up dust and debris, obscuring the riders’ vision.

As the plaintiff passed the mower, she covered her face and swerved, clipping the side of her niece’s bike. The plaintiff then lost control, fell, and injured her leg and knee. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the local government that owned and operated the trail.

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Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case illustrating the importance of being truthful in all testimony before the court. The case presented the court with the opportunity to determine whether a lower court was proper to dismiss a plaintiff’s case, based on the fact that he provided answers that were later determined to be misleading. Finding that the plaintiff’s answers were given with the intent to subvert the judicial process, the court held that the lower court was acting within its discretion to dismiss the plaintiff’s case.

Spine X-RayThe case is important to Indiana car accident plaintiffs because it illustrates the importance of a dedicated personal injury attorney who can advise a client on how to properly answer questions in a truthful manner without disclosing unnecessary facts that may ultimately harm their case.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was involved in a car accident that he claimed to have been caused by the defendant’s negligence. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant, arguing that he sustained injuries to his neck, back, and shoulder.

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Recently, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a case involving a man who was seriously injured while skiing off-trail at a world-renowned ski resort. The case required the court to determine if the ski resort owed the plaintiff a duty of care to prevent this type of accident. Finding that the plaintiff assumed the risks involved in this type of activity, the court concluded that the resort owed him no duty. As a result, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

Ski ResortThis case is important to Indiana personal injury plaintiffs because it discusses the assumption-of-the-risk doctrine and illustrates how courts apply the doctrine in practice.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff, a ski instructor from California, was visiting Jackson Hole, Wyoming with friends on a ski trip. During their stay, the resort got about a foot of new snow. While much of the resort was machine-groomed, the plaintiff and his friends sought the resort’s ungroomed terrain.

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Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued a written opinion in an Indiana slip-and-fall case involving a woman’s fall at a pharmacy chain. The case required the court to determine if a lower court was proper in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant. Finding that the plaintiff failed to establish that the defendant had knowledge of the hazard that caused her fall, the court affirmed judgment in the defendant’s favor.

Spilled LiquidThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was visiting a Walgreen’s pharmacy when she slipped and fell on what she believed to be a puddle of water. However, witness accounts differed regarding whether there was water on the floor after the plaintiff’s fall. Several store employees claimed that no water was present. However, the plaintiff and her friend testified that there was a puddle of water present. The plaintiff also told responding paramedics that she had slipped on a puddle of water.

At trial, the court determined that the plaintiff’s statement to paramedics was inadmissible hearsay, precluding it from consideration. Thus, the court then held that the plaintiff failed to make out her case against the defendant. The plaintiff appealed.

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As a general matter, the state and local governments enjoy immunity from personal injury lawsuits. However, each state has a tort claims act that statutorily waives immunity in some situations. Each state’s tort claims act is a little different, with most states outlining the situations in which immunity is waived. Indiana’s Tort Claims Act, however, is different in that it is framed in terms of which actions are immune from liability.

Dead End SignOne area in which governments are entitled to immunity from Indiana personal injury lawsuits is in the design of roadways. Under Indiana Code section 34-13-3-3, government entities are immune from lawsuits based on the design of roadways when the claim arises 20 years or more after the roadway had been constructed or substantially redesigned. The statute does not apply to the government’s ongoing requirement to maintain roadways in a safe condition.

A recent case illustrates how courts view cases brought under the various tort claims acts.

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The legal theory of negligent entrustment allows for an Indiana car accident victim to seek compensation from the owner of a vehicle who negligently allowed another person to use the vehicle that was involved in the accident. Since a negligent entrustment claim allows for an accident victim to hold a third party (the vehicle’s owner) liable for the negligent actions of a party (the driver), it is a form of vicarious liability.

Sunny HighwayCommonly, negligent entrustment claims are brought against those who lend their cars to young or intoxicated drivers. Each state has its own laws when it comes to establishing a negligent entrustment claim, but a universal requirement is that the plaintiff be able to establish that the owner of the vehicle had some reason to believe that the person they allowed to use their car posed a danger to other motorists.

A federal appellate court recently issued a written opinion in a negligent entrustment case illustrating how courts analyze these claims.

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