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The most commonly seen types of Indiana premises liability cases are slip-and-fall accidents occurring in the winter months due to accumulated snow or ice on the ground. Snow and ice that accumulates on a landowner’s property create a serious hazard, and Indiana lawmakers recognize as much.

A Business Owner’s Obligation to Clear Snow and Ice

In Indiana, business owners have a general duty to clear their premises of snow and ice. What precisely a landowner’s duty entails is determined on a case-by-case basis. Generally, courts will look to whether the landowner exercised reasonable care in the maintenance of their property.

Under Indiana case law, when courts consider a winter slip-and-fall accident occurring on commercial property, they look to 1.) how long the snow or ice was present on the property, and 2.) the amount of notice the landowner had of the upcoming storm. For example, if a sudden storm deposits a surprising amount of snow, it may be reasonable for a landowner to take slightly longer than one would typically expect to clear their property of the snow. Courts may also consider whether the landowner had prior notice of a problem that had occurred in the past.

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Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) case that may impact Indiana personal injury and wrongful death cases involving minor victims. The case required the court to determine if a claim under the FTCA is automatically tolled while the plaintiff is a minor. Ultimately, the court noted that the FTCA contained no explicit provision calling for minority tolling, and thus held that FTCA claims were not subject to minority tolling.

Statutes of Limitations

Generally, all personal injury claims must be brought within a certain period as outlined in the relevant statute of limitations. However, there are some situations in which a statute of limitations is “tolled” or delayed. For example, in some cases, a statute of limitations will be tolled during the period in which the plaintiff is a minor. Another common example of when tolling may occur is when a plaintiff does not discover their injury until a later date

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was nine years old when his father was killed in a car accident. After the accident, the plaintiff’s mother filed an administrative claim with the Federal Highway Administration (FWA) seeking compensation on behalf of her son for the loss of his father. However, it was not until six years later that the plaintiff’s mother filed a lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of her son. Once the plaintiff turned 18, he was substituted for his mother as plaintiff.

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Indiana wrongful death claims are meant to compensate the accident victim’s spouse and dependents after their wrongful death. So, what happens if the decedent’s spouse and dependents are no longer alive by the time the case goes to trial? The Indiana Supreme Court took up the issue in a recent case.

The Facts

According to the court’s written opinion, a husband filed a claim after his wife died from complications during surgery and throughout her subsequent dialysis treatments. The husband brought a negligence claim against his wife’s surgeon, the hospital, and the dialysis treatment center, seeking damages for her death under Indiana’s wrongful death statute. The plaintiff sought damages for two general categories: “final-expense damages” and “survivor damages.” Final-expense damages included the medical, funeral, and burial expenses, and survivor damages were claimed for the loss of consortium, including loss of income, loss of employment benefits, and loss of companionship. However, the husband died while the case was still being decided. He did not leave a will and there were no apparent heirs to his estate, so the estate reverted to the state of Indiana.

The defendants argued that because the husband died, there could be no award of survivor damages, because there was no evidence to support a loss of consortium claim. They claimed that because the husband did not have any heirs, any survivor damages would pass to the state, which contradicts the purpose of a compensatory damages award for wrongful death claims.

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One of the most common ways that an Indiana car accident victim can prove their case against a defendant is through witness testimony. Frequently, witness testimony in an Indiana car accident case comes in the form of eyewitness testimony, meaning from someone who actually observed the accident. However, some car accident cases present more complex issues that may require an expert witness.

In Indiana, a qualified expert witness is permitted to testify if she possesses “scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge” that will help the jury understand the evidence or the issues involved in the case. Unlike other witnesses, expert witnesses are allowed to provide their opinion to the jury. Thus, expert witness testimony can be very powerful.

Expert witnesses are not necessary in every case. However, a recent state appellate decision illustrates that expert witnesses may be required in some situations.

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Under Indiana premises liability law, property owners are generally not liable for injuries caused to trespassers. However, through Indiana’s attractive nuisance doctrine, a property owner may be liable when a trespassing child is injured on their land due to a dangerous object that attracted the child onto the landowner’s property. A recent state appellate decision illustrates the attractive nuisance doctrine.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s recitation of the facts giving rise to the case, the plaintiff and some friends entered a construction site after hours. The teens spent several hours at the site, drinking whiskey and smoking marijuana. Evidently, the construction crew had left several pieces of heavy construction equipment on-site. Several of the pieces of equipment had the keys in the ignition. The plaintiff initially removed one set of keys to prevent his friends from starting the machine and potentially hurting themselves. However, as the group was leaving, the plaintiff climbed inside a machine and began to drive it up a floodwall. The machine flipped over, and the plaintiff was seriously injured.

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the construction company, arguing that leaving the construction site unfenced created an attractive nuisance. In a pre-trial motion, the defendant argued that no reasonable juror could find that the plaintiff, a 16-year-old male, did not realize the risk playing with the machine. The court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

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One of the more common defenses that Indiana personal injury victims encounter when attempting to recover for their injuries is that of assumption of the risk. Essentially, the assumption of the risk doctrine bars a plaintiff from recovering for their injuries when the plaintiff is fully aware of the risks involved in an activity, but chooses to participate in the activity notwithstanding those risks. In many personal injury cases, such as Indiana car accident cases, assumption of the risk rarely comes up. However, assumption of the risk frequently arises in Indiana sports injury cases.

In Indiana, a plaintiff’s assumption of the risk can be used to assign the plaintiff a percentage of fault for the accident, thus reducing their total recovery amount. Only in rare circumstances will a plaintiff’s assumption of risk result in the plaintiff being prevented from recovering entirely. Recently, a state appellate court released an opinion in a skiing accident case discussing assumption of the risk.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was a ski instructor at a ski resort. One day, while the plaintiff was giving a ski lesson to a six-year-old child, the defendant came speeding down the mountain. The plaintiff was in an area marked for “slow skiing.” However, as the defendant approached, he went off a jump to perform a trick, and ended up colliding with the plaintiff upon landing. The plaintiff was seriously injured and filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

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All Indiana motorists are required to maintain a certain amount of auto insurance to drive legally. Lawmakers’ idea behind creating such a requirement was to ensure that an at-fault motorist had sufficient assets to cover the costs incurred by the victims of their negligence. Thus, even if an at-fault motorist has no assets themselves, their insurance company will defend the case on their behalf and compensate the accident victim up to the policy limit.

In reality, however, dealing with an insurance company after an Indiana car accident can be a major headache. For one, insurance companies are for-profit companies that rely on taking in more money each month in premiums than they pay out in claims. Thus, it is in an insurance company’s interest to pay as little for each claim as possible. Thus, insurance companies routinely deny coverage in hopes that the accident victim is unfamiliar with the process and doesn’t ask any questions. However, insurance companies who deny coverage can be challenged through an Indiana personal injury lawsuit.

A recent case illustrates one plaintiff’s successful attempt to get an insurance company to cover his injuries.

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Figuring out who to name as a defendant in an Indiana car accident case is an important step in any personal injury case. For example, employers may be liable for employees’ actions even in cases where the employer was seemingly not involved in the accident, as a recent case illustrates.

In that case, the plaintiff was evidently a passenger in a truck that was in a single-vehicle accident. At the time, the driver was driving back home after attending a family gathering. The plaintiff filed suit against the driver (the plaintiff’s father), the driver’s corporation, and an affiliated corporation that owned the vehicle. The defendant corporations claimed that they could not be held liable because the driver was not acting within the scope of his employment at the time of the crash.

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant corporations required the driver to be on call at all times—24 hours a day, seven days a week. The driver was required to immediately respond to calls for repairs and maintenance at the defendants’ farms, ranches, and dairies. The defendants had equipment that was operated 24 hours a day, and repairs had to be addressed immediately to avoid disruption of the farm and dairy operations. It was not clear whether the driver was required to use the company vehicle (which contained tools and parts for repairs) at all times so that he could quickly carry out repairs. The driver’s supervisor told him that he was not limited to using the vehicle for business purposes.

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Last month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a case raising an important issue that frequently comes up in Indiana personal injury cases. The case required the court to assess whether a company that provided maintenance for machinery could be held responsible for an accident that may have been able to be prevented if certain safety features had been installed on the machinery. Ultimately, the court concluded that the maintenance company could not be held liable, and dismissed the plaintiff’s case.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff worked as a truck driver. One day, the plaintiff was waiting at his employer’s warehouse for another employee to load his empty tractor-trailer with goods. As the plaintiff was waiting for the trailer to be loaded, the employee who was operating the forklift backed up over the plaintiff’s foot. The forklift did not have a back-up alarm installed.

Evidently, the plaintiff’s employer had a contract with the defendant company to provide maintenance for the forklift. That agreement called for the defendant company to provide preventative maintenance on the forklift every 90 days. Apparently, the forklift had been serviced just a few months prior to the accident by one of the defendant’s employees, and the installation of a back-up alarm was not recommended. After the accident, the defendant installed a back-up alarm on the forklift.

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When someone is injured in an Indiana car accident, the accident victim is entitled to pursue a claim for compensation against any of the parties they believe were responsible for causing the crash. In the majority of cases, car accidents occur on public roads. After an accident on a public road, the motorists involved in the collision should call the police. The police will then respond to the scene, investigate the accident, and issue any citations if they are determined to be necessary. The results of an investigation conducted by the police can be very beneficial to an Indiana car accident plaintiff.

In addition to accidents occurring on public roadways, there are a significant number of Indiana car accidents that occur in parking lots, parking garages, or on other privately owned property. Because these accidents are not on public roadways, police officers may not respond unless there are serious injuries. However, it is essential that motorists involved in a car accident on private property obtain all the necessary information from the other drivers involved in the crash, including the driver’s name, address, insurance information, as well as the vehicle information, including the name and address of the owner (if the owner is not the one driving the car).

An accident victim may also be able to pursue a claim against the owner of the property where the accident occurred if the owner’s negligence contributed to the accident. For example, parking garages are poorly designed or improperly marked, creating a misleading situation for motorists. However, an Indiana accident victim must be able to connect the landowner’s negligence to their injuries by establishing a causal relationship between the two. A recent state appellate decision discussed a plaintiff’s car accident claim against a private residential community.

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