Articles Posted in Car Accidents

Earlier this month, the Indiana Supreme Court issued a written opinion in an Indiana car accident case involving a plaintiff’s claim that the employer of a delivery driver was responsible for injuries caused by the delivery driver. The plaintiff made several claims, including one under the doctrine of respondeat superior as well as another claim alleging negligent hiring. Ultimately, the court concluded that since the employer admitted that the employee was acting within the scope of her employment at the time of the accident, the employer only can be held liable under the theory of respondeat superior.

Pizza BoxesThe Facts of the Case

In August 2012, a delivery driver for a pizza restaurant was making a delivery when she rear-ended the plaintiff, who was riding a motorized scooter. The plaintiff was thrown from the scooter onto the road, where he was struck by another motorist. The plaintiff was killed in the accident.

The plaintiff’s estate filed a wrongful death case against all three parties:  the delivery driver, the pizza restaurant, and the driver who struck the plaintiff once she fell from the scooter. This opinion only involves the plaintiff’s claims against the pizza restaurant.

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Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion that will likely be of interest to anyone considering an Indiana product liability lawsuit against a vehicle manufacturer. The case presented the court with the opportunity to answer two questions. First, it addressed whether the lower court was proper in dismissing the plaintiff’s case against the defendant vehicle manufacturer based on a perceived inconsistency in the jury’s verdict. And second, it addressed the issue of, if the plaintiff’s case was sufficient as a matter of law, whether the $1 million damages that the jury awarded him were adequate. Ultimately, the court resolved both questions in favor of the plaintiff.

VW VanThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured in a roll-over accident when the van he was operating rear-ended another vehicle on the highway. While the initial collision was minor, the plaintiff was seriously injured when the van rolled, and he hit his head on the roof of the vehicle. After the accident, the plaintiff was permanently paralyzed from the neck down.

The plaintiff filed a product liability lawsuit against the vehicle’s manufacturer, making several claims. The plaintiff presented evidence showing that the manufacturer did not conduct any safety testing on the seatbelt mechanism in the van. The plaintiff also had an expert witness testify that, had testing been conducted, the results would have indicated that the seatbelt mechanism was unsafe, and the manufacturer would have likely used a safer mechanism in its place.

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Anyone who has been involved in an Indiana car accident knows that dealing with insurance companies in the wake of the accident can be a real headache. While insurance is mandatory in all states and should act to provide compensation to car accident victims, the reality is that insurance companies are for-profit companies that are financially incentivized to pay out as little as possible for each claim.

Smashed WindshieldIn many cases, insurance companies will approach an accident victim early in the recovery process in hopes of getting to them before they speak to an attorney. An employee of the insurance company may try to act like they know what is best for an accident victim, and they will often explain that the claim is worth a certain amount and offer to settle the claim. However, accident victims should be careful when discussing their claims with anyone from the insurance company because in most cases, the offers made to an unrepresented accident victim are low-ball offers to settle claims that may be worth much more.

In other cases, insurance companies will outright deny an accident victim’s claim. This is especially the case when there are unusual facts surrounding the accident. In such cases, the accident victim may be left with no choice but to file a personal injury lawsuit, seeking to compel the insurance company to cover the claim. That is exactly what happened in a recent car accident case in Rhode Island.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case that was brought by a woman who was not in either car at the time of the accident, but was struck by one of the cars involved in the accident while she was standing on the corner. The court had to decide if the plaintiff’s case should proceed to trial against both drivers, or only against the driver who ran the red light, causing the accident. In the end, the court held that because conflicting evidence existed about whether both drivers may be at fault, the case should proceed to trial against both defendants.

Pedestrian SignThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff worked as a crossing guard for a local school. It was the Friday of the first week of school, and she was scheduled to end her shift in a few minutes when she glanced up the street and noticed a car speeding towards her. She noticed the car was crossing into the lane of opposing traffic passing other vehicles. As the car approached the intersection where the plaintiff was standing, it ran a red stoplight.

At the time the first car ran the red light, a pick-up truck entered the intersection with a green light. There was conflicting testimony as to whether the intersection was clear at the time the pick-up truck entered the intersection. The plaintiff said that it was not clear; however, the driver of the pick-up and several eyewitnesses claimed that it was clear. Regardless, once the pick-up entered the intersection, it was struck by the car that had run the red stoplight. The force from the collision sent the pick-up truck right into the plaintiff, who was thrown against a wall nearby. The plaintiff suffered serious injuries, and filed a personal injury lawsuit against both drivers.

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Late this month, an appellate court in Ohio issued an interesting decision involving the limits of a local government’s immunity from personal injury lawsuits involving claims that the government failed to maintain a public road. In the case, Bibler v. Stevenson, the court determined that a local government was not entitled to immunity when it allowed a stop sign to become overgrown with brush, resulting in a motorist running the stop sign and striking the plaintiff.

ForestThe Facts of the Case

Back in 2011, Bibler was driving through an intersection when he was struck by another motorist who had run a stop sign. When asked by police what happened, the other motorist explained that she had not seen the stop sign. The officer then investigated the motorist’s claim and agreed that the stop sign was obstructed by overgrown foliage.

Bibler filed a lawsuit against the other driver as well as the city where the intersection was located. Bibler eventually settled with the other driver out of court, and the case against the city proceeded toward trial. However, the trial judge dismissed the case against the city, explaining that the city was presumptively entitled to government immunity, and Bibler failed to establish an exception. Bibler appealed.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court in Alaska issued a written opinion in a personal injury case affirming a trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiff’s post-trial motion after a jury found in favor of the defendant. In the case, Long v. Arnold, the court held that the trial court’s jury instructions properly summed up the applicable law and that the lower court was correct to deny the plaintiff’s post-trial motion. The case illustrates how important it is for a personal injury attorney to diligently and aggressively argue that fair instructions be provided to the jury before it is sent back to deliberate.

Car in DitchThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in the case, Long, was driving her car on an Alaska road when the defendant pulled out in front of her, cutting her off. As a result of the defendant’s sudden decision to pull in front of her, Long steered her car off the side of the road and into some roadside bushes. Evidence presented at trial suggested Long was traveling at about 10 miles per hour at the time of the accident. Her car naturally came to a stop without hitting any stationary object.

Initially, Long did not believe that she had suffered any injury as a result of the accident. However, two days later while on a flight, she discovered that her back was bothering her. She then filed a personal injury claim against the driver of the vehicle who had cut her off.

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Government immunity is a concept that is present in almost all personal injury cases that name a government entity or employee as a defendant. Even in cases in which the plaintiff ultimately recovers compensation for their injuries after settlement negotiations or a trial, it is likely that the plaintiff had to overcome the issue of government immunity at some point in the lawsuit. Thus, the issue of government immunity is critical for all would-be plaintiffs to understand before filing a lawsuit against a state, local, or federal government agency.

IntersectionDesign Immunity in Indiana

One type of government immunity involves a government’s design of highways, roads, and intersections. This is called design immunity. Design immunity does not cover a government’s failure to properly maintain a road, but instead it covers a government’s decisions on how to construct a road.

In Indiana, governments are generally entitled to immunity regarding their discretionary functions. Arguably, many road construction projects will be deemed discretionary by the courts, eliminating a government’s liability. Regardless, governments are entitled to immunity from any lawsuit stemming from the design of a highway, road, or intersection if the claim arises more than 20 years after the project was constructed. A recent case illustrates how a court may apply design immunity to extinguish an accident victim’s right to recovery.

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Last month, an appellate court in California issued an interesting opinion regarding when a negligent driver’s employer can also be held liable in a personal injury lawsuit. In the case, Jorge v. Culinary Institute of America, the court ultimately determined that since the fatal accident occurred while the defendant’s employee was on his way home from work and was not engaged in any work-related activity, the defendant was not vicariously liable for the employee’s actions.

ChefThe Facts of the Case

Da Fonseca worked for the defendant, the Culinary Institute of America. He was an instructor who worked primarily at one location but occasionally did some consulting for the defendant at various other locations. On the day of the accident, Jorge was his way home from work with his chef’s jacket and knives in the car. At some point on his commute back home, he struck and killed Jorge, a 14-year-old boy, with his car.

Jorge’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against both Da Fonseca and the Culinary Institute. Da Fonseca and Jorge’s family reached a mutually acceptable settlement agreement, so the case proceeded only against the Culinary Institute. The Institute’s request to dismiss the case based on a lack of vicarious liability was denied, and after a jury trial, a verdict of roughly $885,000 was awarded to Jorge’s family.

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Earlier last month, an appellate court issued a written opinion in a car accident case brought by a man who was injured by an on-duty paramedic on his way to the scene of an accident. The case, Aldana v. Stillwagon, presented the issue of whether a case involving a regular traffic accident caused by an on-duty paramedic should be considered a “medical malpractice” case for the purpose of determining which procedural rules apply. Ultimately, the court determined that since the accident was “garden variety” and didn’t involve the paramedic’s professional duties, the case should not be considered a medical malpractice case.

AmbulanceThe Facts of the Case

The defendant, Stillwagon, was an on-duty paramedic who was called to respond to a traffic accident. He was not in a marked ambulance but was instead driving a special pick-up truck that was outfitted with lights and sirens. However, at the time, neither was activated.

On his way to the accident scene, Stillwagon ran a red light and struck Aldana’s vehicle, causing him serious injuries. Aldana filed a personal injury lawsuit against Stillwagon but did so 17 months after the accident. In response to the complaint filed against him, Stillwagon asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the appropriate statute of limitations was one year under the state’s medical malpractice act.

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Auto insurance coverage is required in Indiana, and most motorists are familiar with the coverage they have and how to go about using it when the need arises. However, the contract that is entered into between a motorist and an insurance company is lengthy, and most motorists do not take the time to read over the entire policy but instead skim the declarations page to gain a basic understanding of their coverage.

Car AccidentHowever, insurance contracts are long, complicated documents that often require trained eyes to understand and interpret. In fact, there may even be errors or internally inconsistent clauses in an insurance contract that can create confusion for motorists hoping to seek reimbursement for expenses related to property damage or personal injuries. In fact, a recent case in front of the Indiana Supreme Court illustrates how these confusions can arise and what courts can do to resolve problems when they arise.

State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance v. Jakubowicz

Jakubowicz and her two children were injured as a result of an accident caused by a third party. After the accident, Jakubowicz filed a personal injury claim against the third party’s insurance company, seeking compensation for her family’s medical expenses. However, while that claim was being processed, Jakubowicz realized that the total available amount available under that driver’s policy was not going to cover her family’s injuries. She then filed a claim under her own insurance with State Farm, under the underinsured motorist provision. This claim was filed over three years after the accident.

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