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When someone is injured due to the alleged negligence of another party, the injury victim can pursue a claim for compensation against the parties they believe to be at fault for their injuries. These cases all fall under the umbrella of Indiana personal injury cases. However, there are several different types of personal injury cases, and courts apply slightly different legal standards according to the type of claim that is brought. A recent state appellate decision illustrates the importance of the legal standard that is applied by the court.

The case arose when the plaintiff, who was a guest at the defendant’s property, was injured in a golf cart accident. The defendant was driving the cart at the time of the accident. The plaintiff sued the defendant, claiming that the defendant acted negligently by operating the golf cart in an unsafe manner. The plaintiff’s claim made no mention of a premises liability theory, and did not mention the defendant’s status as the owner of the property where the accident occurred.

The defendant claimed that he did not violate a duty of care that he owed to the plaintiff. The defendant characterized the plaintiff’s claim as one of premises liability, arguing that the plaintiff was a licensee on his property, and thus he only had a duty “to refrain from willfully, wantonly, knowingly, or intentionally injuring her.”

In March 2019, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a personal injury case discussing whether the defendant motorist was entitled to summary judgment based on the evidence presented. The case raises an interesting issue that frequently comes up in Indiana car accident cases in which each party offers a very different version of the events leading up to the accident.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was jogging down a road when he was approached from behind by the defendant motorist. The defendant was traveling at approximately 35 miles per hour. As the defendant got close to the plaintiff, he crossed the double-yellow line to try and safely pass the plaintiff. However, as the defendant was re-entering his lane, he crashed into the plaintiff, causing the plaintiff to break his leg. When police officers arrived on the scene, the plaintiff told them that the defendant ran a red light before striking him. The defendant denied the allegation, claiming that he had a green light. The police officer initially cited the plaintiff for darting out into traffic, but that citation was later dismissed.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment in his favor, arguing that the plaintiff was the one who jumped out into traffic, striking his vehicle. The court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment, allowing the plaintiff’s case to proceed towards trial. The defendant appealed.

As we frequently discuss in this blog, Indiana landowners owe a duty of care to those whom they allow to enter their property. When a landowner fails to live up to this duty, they may be liable for any injuries caused on their property through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit. The extent of any duty that is owed to a guest depends primarily on the reason for the guest’s visit. Thus, determining the status of a visitor is the first step in an Indiana premises liability lawsuit.

As a general matter, customers of a business or others who are on a landowner’s property for commercial purposes are owed a greater duty than social guests who are invited upon the premises. Finally, trespassers – or those who enter a property without the owner’s permission – are owed the least significant duty. Generally, a landowner must only refrain from willfully causing injuries to trespassers. However, under the state’s recreational use statute, there are other situations in which a landowner may not be liable for a guest’s injuries.

The Indiana recreational use statute limits a landowner’s liability when the land has been made available for public recreational use. This includes activities such as swimming, camping, hiking, or sightseeing. There are also limitations on a landowner’s liability if they allow others to hunt or fish on their property. To qualify for the statute’s protections, however, the landowner cannot charge the visitor a fee for the use of their property.

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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