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Indiana’s Supreme Court recently decided that a high school could not be held liable for failing to supervise a student after the student left without permission. The 16-year-old student left the school grounds of an Indianapolis high school without permission and was subsequently shot and killed. His estate filed a lawsuit against the school claiming that it was negligent in failing to monitor and supervise the student. The school argued the student was contributorily negligent and thus was not entitled to compensation from the school. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants.

Under Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, if a claimant is partially at fault for his injuries, he can still recover damages, although the award will be reduced by the percentage the claimant is found to be at fault. However, the Comparative Fault Act does not apply in cases against governmental entities. In cases against governmental entities, Indiana’s contributory negligence doctrine applies. Under the contributory negligence doctrine, a plaintiff cannot recover if the plaintiff is negligent and the negligence is even slightly the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The court explained that absent special circumstances, children over the age of 14 are able to exercise reasonable care that an ordinary person would exercise in similar circumstances. It also stated that a plaintiff is contributorily negligence if the plaintiff’s actions fell below the standard necessary for his own protection and safety.

Many Indiana personal injury cases do not make it to trial. Instead, the parties agree to settle the case. Frequently, cases settle after the parties have progressed past the summary judgment stage. Parties often use the summary judgment stage as a barometer for how their case would fare if it were to go to trial.

The summary judgment stage occurs before a case is listed for trial, and is used by courts to weed out cases or claims that do not have merit. Typically, in a summary judgment motion, the judge will consider all the uncontested evidence and make a determination if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If there is conflicting evidence regarding a material issue in the case, summary judgment is not appropriate.

Every state is free to craft their own summary judgment standard, within reason. For example, the federal system uses what is called the “no evidence” approach. Under this standard, the moving party can succeed in their motion if they are able to show that the other party does not have any evidence supporting their claims. Defendants in personal injury lawsuits frequently file summary judgment motions in no-evidence jurisdictions because doing so is simple and there is little to lose (and potentially quite a bit to gain).

Recently, an appellate court issued an opinion in a case dealing with an evidentiary issue that is applicable to many Indiana personal injury lawsuits.  According to the court’s written opinion, the case stemmed from an accident after an employee was injured when he was operating a car-crushing machine. The plaintiff sued the car manufacturer and the company that leased the machine to his employer. The plaintiff argued that the parties were liable under a defective design theory. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants based on a finding that the plaintiff’s expert witness testimony was not admissible. The plaintiff appealed the granting of the defendant’s summary judgment motion.

The court explained that the threshold criteria for an expert witness is that the “expert can reliably apply the principles and methods to the facts of the case.” In this particular case, the plaintiff presented the opinion of a professor of mechanical engineering. Although the professor had a Ph.D., had published articles, and had over three decades of experience, the court found that his testimony did not meet the basic expert witness requirements.

Typically, Indiana requires expert testimony be based on “scientific, technical, or specialized knowledge.” Expert witnesses can be used to understand complex issues, strengths, and weaknesses of a case, and to oppose adverse experts. Indiana product liability lawsuits often require expert witnesses. An expert witness must meet a threshold requirement under the Federal Rules of Evidence. The witness must be able to “reliably apply the principles and methods to the facts” of a case. Moreover, they must possess the training, education, skills, and knowledge to assist the trier of fact in determining an issue.

As a general rule, when one party’s negligence results in another’s injury, the injury victim can file an Indiana personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party in hopes of obtaining financial compensation for their injuries. However, the Indiana state legislature has carved out several exceptions in which certain activities cannot legally be the basis for a personal injury action. Equine activity is one such area of the law.

Equine activity is that which is related to horses and similar animals. Commonly, equine activities refer to boarding, caring for, showing, and riding horses. Under Indiana Code section 34-31-5-1, “an equine activity sponsor or equine professional” cannot be liable for the injury or death of any participant resulting from the risks inherent with the activity. A recent state appellate case illustrates the type of issues that can come up in an Indiana horseback riding accident.

According to the facts of the case, the plaintiff was watching a youth horse race. While the area where the race was held provided a space for spectators, the plaintiff watched the race from a different vantage point. Specifically, the plaintiff chose to watch the race by a barn that was closer to the exit of the area. From where the plaintiff watched the race, she was between five and 15 feet from the track.

In June, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana car accident case discussing whether an expert witness’s disciplinary history is admissible in a personal injury trial. Ultimately, the court concluded that such an account is admissible, but that in this case, specific evidentiary rules prevented the admission of the reasons for the disciplinary action.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was sitting in her vehicle at a stop sign when the defendant rear-ended her. The plaintiff went to the hospital, and was released that evening with a neck brace and a prescription for pain medication. Later, the plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant.

In support of her case, the plaintiff planned on presenting evidence from a treating physician who was going to be a medical expert at trial. The defendant asked the expert whether he was ever subject to any disciplinary proceedings, to which the expert responded affirmatively. However, the expert would not get into any details. Before trial, the defendant asked the court to compel the expert to disclose the reasons for the disciplinary action taken against him. The court denied the defendant’s request, holding that the fact that the expert was subject to prior disciplinary proceedings was not relevant because, at the time of trial, the expert’s medical license was valid. The jury ultimately returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and the defendant appealed.

Under Indiana tort law, landowners have an obligation to ensure that their property is safe for the people they host, either as social guests or business invitees. In general, a property owner must exercise reasonable care when maintaining their property to discover and eliminate any hazards. If a hazard cannot be remedied, a landowner should warn guests of the hazard’s existence.

Thus far, the focus of the discussion has been on the knowledge and actions of the landowner. However, Indiana premises liability cases also consider the knowledge and conduct of the victim. For example, if a hazard is open and obvious, the law generally holds that a plaintiff should recognize such dangers and use necessary caution. In these cases, a landowner may not be liable for a plaintiff’s injuries if the jury determines that most of the fault is attributable to the plaintiff. However, it is typically not a court’s job to determine whether a plaintiff was negligent; that task belongs to the jury. A recent case illustrates the importance of this distinction.

According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was injured when she tripped and fell over a broken sidewalk at her condo complex. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff had lived in the complex for ten years, and regularly crossed the broken sidewalk without incident. She admitted that she knew there were safer paths to take, and that she knew about the broken sidewalk.

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana product liability case discussing under what circumstances the manufacturer of a component part can be held liable for its failure to include a necessary safety feature. The case is interesting because it resolves a previously unanswered question under the Indiana Product Liability Act (IPLA).

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff’s husband was killed when a semi-truck backed up over him. The defendant manufactured the “glider kit” which, in the court’s words, “becomes an operable over-the-road semi-truck after a purchaser installs an engine, transmission, and exhaust system.” The glider kit has a 40-foot blind spot behind the vehicle. The defendant allows buyers to purchase additional safety features, such as a rear-view window, a backup alarm, a backup camera, or backup flashers. None of those features were installed on the unit that ran over the plaintiff’s husband.

The plaintiff filed an Indiana product liability claim against the defendant, claiming that the glider kit suffered from a defective design. The defendant moved for summary judgment, arguing that it had no duty to install additional safety features. The defendant claimed that it did not manufacturer the completed semi-truck, and that the glider kit was not unreasonably dangerous or defective when it left the defendant’s control and that it was up to the purchaser to ensure that the final vehicle was safe for its intended use.

A waiver of liability, also called a liability release waiver, is a legal document that purports to release a party of liability in the event another party is injured. Waivers of liability are very common in Indiana, and whether most people realize it, chances are they have signed one at some point.

Companies use release waivers to limit or eliminate any legal exposure through an Indiana personal injury lawsuit. Common situations where release waivers are used include:

  • Sending a child on a field trip;

Parents assume that the products they purchase for their children are safe. However, that is not always the case. Too often, manufacturers rush products to market without having conducted the necessary safety testing. When it comes to products marketed toward children, any risk is unacceptable. Indiana parents should know that manufacturers can be held liable for any injuries caused by their product through an Indiana product liability lawsuit.

On April 12, 2019, Fisher-Price issued a recall of its popular infant sleeper, the Rock ‘n Play. The Rock n’ Play is a compact, foldable sleeper that is unique in that it allows infants to lie at a 30-degree angle while sleeping. The company marketed the product to parents hoping to get their babies to sleep longer, which is a significant concern for many parents of young children. Since Fisher-Price released the product in 2009, it is estimated that it has sold over 4.7 million units.

According to a recent article by the Washington Post, the Rock ‘n Play was manufactured and released to market with a complete dearth of clinical research into the product’s safety. The company appears to have only consulted with a single doctor in the creation of the product, a doctor whose medical license was later revoked. It was not until eight years later that Fisher-Price hired a pediatrician to look into the safety of the Rock ‘n Play.

Dangerous roads are one of the most often overlooked causes of Indiana car accidents. In part, road design and maintenance may be overlooked because it can be difficult to successfully pursue an Indiana personal injury claim based on the dangerous design or negligent maintenance of a road. However, the possibility of encountering an obstacle should not discourage an accident victim from discussing their case with an attorney.

There are numerous ways in which a road might be dangerous. The most common defects found on Indiana roads are surface defects and planning defects. Surface defects include cracking pavement, potholes, and eroded shoulders. These are often results of poorly maintained roads. Planning defects have to do with the layout of the road itself. Common examples of planning defects are blind corners, confusing intersections, and poorly lit roads. Under Indiana law, it is possible for an accident victim to recover based on either surface defects or planning defects. However, issues of governmental immunity may be a hurdle that accident victims must overcome. A recent case discusses governmental immunity in the context of a car accident that was allegedly caused by a defectively designed road.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was heading southbound on a motorcycle when a vehicle attempted to make a left turn in front of him. The plaintiff was unable to avoid the collision and crashed into the passenger-side door of the motorist’s vehicle. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the state government, arguing that the intersection was dangerous and that the government failed to warn motorists of the dangerous intersection.