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One of the most important determinations in an Indiana slip-and-fall case is the status of the injured party. Visitors are classified into three categories, invitees, licensees, and trespassers. Under Indiana premises liability law, the highest duty is owed to invitees, who are guests who are invited onto the landowner’s property for the landowner’s benefit. Invitees most often are guests who are visiting for business purposes, such as customers. When it comes to the duty owed to an invitee, an Indiana landowner must make reasonable efforts to clear any known hazards on their property or at least warn the invitee of the known hazard.

On the other end of the spectrum are trespassers. For the most part, Indiana landowners do not owe trespassers a duty. However, the landowner cannot willfully or maliciously cause a trespasser harm. Occupying the middle ground between invitee and trespasser is the licensee. A licensee is someone who has either express or implied permission to enter a property, and does so “for his own convenience, curiosity, or entertainment.” The most common licensees are social guests, including friends and family members.

Landowners owe a duty to licensees to refrain from “acting in a manner to increase their peril.” A landowner also has a duty to warn licensees of any known dangers on their property. A recent state appellate decision discussed a landowner’s potential liability to a social guest who was injured on his property.

Being involved in an Indiana workplace accident is a stressful experience. Not only must the injured employee worry about physical recovery after the accident, but injured employees must also take time away from work. On top of this, there are often mounting medical expenses that must be paid.

Depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident, an Indiana workplace accident victim may be able to pursue a claim for compensation. However, it is essential that an Indiana workplace accident victim understand the two types of claims that can be made after a workplace accident, as well as the differences between the two claims.

First, an employee who is injured on the job can file an Indiana workers’ compensation claim. The Indiana Workers’ Compensation Act creates a no-fault system, meaning that an employee will not be required to show that their employer was at fault to obtain benefits. However, the benefits that are available through an Indiana workers’ compensation claim are limited, and only include benefits for medical expenses and wage loss.

Last month, a federal appellate court issued an opinion in an Indiana personal injury accident that required the court to interpret the Indiana Comparative Fault Act. Ultimately, the court concluded that the evidence presented indicated that the plaintiff was more than 50% at fault for his injuries, and thus dismissal of the plaintiff’s case under the Comparative Fault Act was appropriate.

The Indiana Comparative Fault Act is contained in Indiana Code sections 34-51-2-5 and 34-51-2-6, and provides the system that courts use to determine whether an accident victim who shares fault for their own injuries can pursue a claim against other potentially liable parties. Specifically, the Act states that “any contributory fault chargeable to the claimant diminishes proportionately the amount awarded as compensatory damages … but does not bar recovery” except as provided by section 34-51-2-6.

Section 34-51-2-6 explains that a plaintiff cannot recover for their injuries if their fault is “greater than the fault of all persons whose fault proximately contributed to the claimant’s damages.” While this sounds quite confusing, in practice the Comparative Fault Act precludes a plaintiff’s recovery if they were more than 50% at fault for the accident that caused their injuries.

Indiana motorists are accustomed to driving in a variety of conditions. March, in particular, has always been an unpredictable month when it comes to weather in Indiana. While some March days can be sunny and beautiful spring-like, others bring nasty winter storms reminiscent of the dead of winter.

Last week, the end of March brought a serious storm that coated the roads in a layer of snow and ice, making travel difficult for motorists. The wet snow turned into a sheet of ice as temperatures dipped below freezing. According to a local news report, authorities responded to 59 Indiana car accidents between Saturday night and Sunday morning. Of those, 18 crashes involved injuries. Thankfully, none were fatal; however, one woman was left in critical condition.

Authorities described the worst accident as a nine-car pile-up near Old Lafayette Square Mall. Evidently, that accident was the result of motorists losing control of their vehicles due to bridges being slicker than expected.

Businesses in Indiana have an obligation to their customers to ensure that the area accessible to customers is kept in a reasonably safe condition. Indiana grocery stores are no exception, and a large number of Indiana slip-and-fall accidents are the result of grocery store management failing to keep the store’s aisles safe for customers.

Of course, a grocery store will not be held responsible for every slip-and-fall accident that occurs in the store. Under Indiana law, a plaintiff must be able to show that the grocery store was negligent before they will be able to recover for their injuries. This includes showing that the store employees knew or should have known about the hazard. A few common types of negligence that may occur in a grocery store are:

  • the improper stacking of goods;
  • the failure to clean up the mess caused by a product that either fell off the shelf or was dropped by another customer; and
  • the failure to ensure areas of high pedestrian traffic are kept dry during wet weather.

A recent state appellate decision discussed whether a plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to find that the defendant grocery store knew or should have known about the hazard that caused her fall.

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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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