Articles Posted in Government Liability

police stopRecently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving a plaintiff’s claim against the city that employed a police officer who struck her car while responding to an emergency call. The case presents important issues that frequently arise in Indiana personal injury cases that are brought against government employees or entities under the Indiana Tort Claims Act.

The Facts of the Case

A police officer was responding to an emergency call at a hotel for a person who was unconscious. The officer decided to cut through a parking lot that was adjacent to the hotel’s parking lot. As the officer was approaching the hotel, he pulled forward into traffic slightly so that he could see the hotel from his location. As he did so, the plaintiff’s vehicle clipped the police vehicle’s front bumper.

The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the officer as well as the city that employed him. Specifically, the plaintiff claimed that the officer was negligent in the operation of his vehicle, and that the city was vicariously liable for the actions of the officer, which were conducted while in the course of his employment. The plaintiff also claimed the city was negligent in hiring the officer.

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The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) provides a means for citizens to file a personal injury lawsuit against the United States government. And while the substantive laws governing Indiana car accident cases do not change depending on the defendants named in the case, there may be additional procedural requirements in cases that are filed against a government defendant.Legal News Gavel

One of the most important differences when a case is filed against a government defendant is the notice and timing requirements. In a recent case, a federal appellate court determined that a plaintiff’s claim against the United States Post Office (USPS) was time-barred, based on her failure to comply with the timing requirements of the FTCA.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was injured when a USPS vehicle struck her car. Two weeks after the accident, the plaintiff filed an administrative claim with the USPS, seeking compensation for her injuries. Seven months later, the USPS responded, denying the plaintiff’s claim.

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As a general matter, the state and local governments enjoy immunity from personal injury lawsuits. However, each state has a tort claims act that statutorily waives immunity in some situations. Each state’s tort claims act is a little different, with most states outlining the situations in which immunity is waived. Indiana’s Tort Claims Act, however, is different in that it is framed in terms of which actions are immune from liability.

Legal News GavelOne area in which governments are entitled to immunity from Indiana personal injury lawsuits is in the design of roadways. Under Indiana Code section 34-13-3-3, government entities are immune from lawsuits based on the design of roadways when the claim arises 20 years or more after the roadway had been constructed or substantially redesigned. The statute does not apply to the government’s ongoing requirement to maintain roadways in a safe condition.

A recent case illustrates how courts view cases brought under the various tort claims acts.

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Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to interpret and apply the state’s recreational use statute. Ultimately, the court interpreted the statute as written to confer immunity to the defendant landowner, so the plaintiff’s case was dismissed. While the case was brought in a different state, it discusses concepts that may be relevant to Indiana premises liability claim.

Legal News GavelRecreational Use Statutes

Under Indiana Code section 14-22-10-2-5, landowners who open up their land so that the general public can enjoy various recreational activities are not liable if someone engaging in a recreational activity is hurt while on the landowner’s property. However, the statute only confers immunity if the landowner does not require payment for the use of their land. Moreover, if the landowner’s conduct is malicious or constitutes an illegal act, immunity will not attach.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiffs in the case mentioned above were the parents of a young girl who fell through the bleachers at a youth football game. In order to get into the game, the plaintiffs were required to pay the $2 admission fee; however, there was no fee for children under six years old. As a result of her fall, the plaintiffs’ daughter was seriously injured, and the plaintiffs filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city that owned and operated the stadium.

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During the formative years of the United States, certain principles were included in the U.S. Constitution and early amendments that still exist today. However, over time, the country has moved away from some of these principles and limited their application through the passage of new laws. One of the principles that has been continually rolled back over the past two centuries is the idea of government immunity.

Legal News GavelUnder the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and subsequent case-law interpreting that Amendment, the federal and state governments enjoy immunity from lawsuits filed by citizens unless the government waives this immunity. Initially, this meant that very few lawsuits could be brought against government entities. However, the federal and state governments began passing various “tort claims acts,” which would statutorily waive immunity in some circumstances.

In Indiana, the Indiana Tort Claims Act (ITCA) waives the government’s immunity in certain circumstances and provides procedural rules that Indiana accident victims must follow when bringing a lawsuit against the state government. The ITCA is designed to clarify under which situations the government can be held liable, and when the government’s inherent immunity remains intact. A recent case illustrates the difficulties one victim in another state had when he attempted to establish that his injuries fell outside the scope of government immunity.

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Indiana schools have a duty to ensure the safety of students while they are attending school and after-school activities. This duty generally requires that school employees and administrators take reasonable precautions to prevent injuries. For example, schools are required to maintain safe premises, free of dangerous hazards that may result in an Indiana slip-and-fall accident.

Legal News GavelSchools are also responsible to take adequate precautions when designing curriculums, especially in classes that present a heightened danger, such as shop classes and gym classes. However, there are several legal doctrines that can come into play when a student is injured at school. A recent case illustrates the type of analysis a court will conduct when considering whether a school can be held liable for a student’s injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was a student at the defendant school. One day in gym class, the plaintiff was injured when he was accidentally struck in the eye by another student’s stick during a game of floor hockey. After the accident, the plaintiff required eye surgery.

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Indiana landowners have a duty to make sure that their property is safe for the people whom they allow to enter and remain on their property. When a landowner fails to take adequate precautions to ensure a safe area, the injured party can generally seek compensation for their injuries through an Indiana premises liability lawsuit.

Legal News GavelIndiana’s recreational use statute, however, limits a landowner’s liability in some situations. Indiana Code, Title 14, Article 22, Chapter 10, Section 14-22-10-2-5 outlines the state’s recreational use statute. Essentially, a landowner who allows others to use his property at no cost for recreational purposes cannot be held liable for any injuries that are caused as a result of the use of their land. Of course, this does not apply if the landowner acts maliciously or willfully causes an injury to someone using their land. A recent case illustrates how a state’s recreational use statute prevented the family of a young boy from recovering compensation for their son’s injuries.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was the father of a boy who was injured while playing on a rope swing adjacent to a government-owned lake. The child was enjoying the rope swing with several friends, and they would take turns swinging from a nearby tree into the water. As the person swinging was in the air, the other children would try to slap his feet before he splashed into the water. When the plaintiff’s friend was swinging, the plaintiff attempted to slap his friend’s feet. However, the two boys collided, resulting in the plaintiff being seriously injured.

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When someone intends on filing an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit, a thorough investigation must be conducted to determine all of the proper parties that should be named in the lawsuit. In situations in which a government entity is discovered to be one of the potential defendants, Indiana law requires that certain additional steps be taken when naming that entity as a defendant.

Legal News GavelUnder the Indiana Tort Claims Against Governmental Entities and Public Employees Act, plaintiffs intending on filing lawsuits filed against government entities must first provide notice of the claim to the government entity. This notice is due either 180 or 270 days after the incident. If a party fails to provide the government entity with notice of the claim and proceeds to file the claim, the court will dismiss the plaintiff’s case.

A recent wrongful death case illustrates the importance of conducting a thorough investigation.

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As a general rule, government entities cannot be held liable for Indiana accidents under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. The concept of sovereign immunity has been around since the formation of our country. Essentially, sovereign immunity provides total immunity to government entities and employees for their negligent acts. However, over the years, states have enacted various laws that create exceptions to this general rule, permitting some lawsuits against the government.

Legal News GavelIndiana’s version of this law is called the “Tort Claims Against Governmental Entities and Public Employees Act.” Under the Act, sovereign immunity is waived in some situations in which a government employee’s or entity’s negligent action caused someone’s injuries. However, the Act specifically excludes certain types of lawsuits, including accidents involving discretionary acts, the condition of unpaved roads and trails, and most weather-related accidents.

That being said, the Act permits lawsuits against the government for some common accidents, including car accidents caused by government employees and slip-and-fall accidents occurring on government property. Even when sovereign immunity is waived under the Act, however, the accident victim must comply with a strict set of rules in order for their case to be heard and considered. A recent case illustrates the difficulties one accident victim had when he failed to comply with the notice requirements under a similar act.

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Earlier this month, an appellate court in Alabama issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that was brought by an accident victim against a local city that owned and operated the park where the plaintiff’s injury occurred. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss recreational-use immunity and what a plaintiff must show to overcome this immunity. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff failed to establish a crucial element of her claim in that she did not show that the city had actual knowledge of the hazard that caused her fall.

Legal News GavelThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was visiting a park owned and operated by the defendant city. The plaintiff arrived at the park on July 4, in the morning hours. After parking her vehicle, the plaintiff made her way around a set of vertical poles that established the parking area without any problem. However, hours later, when the plaintiff made her way back to her vehicle, she tripped and fell on a diagonal cross-bar that connected two of the vertical poles. Evidence presented to the court suggested that while the area was lit by overhead street lights, the general condition of the lighting was “poor.”

The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the city, claiming that the lack of lighting combined with the condition of the vertical poles created a dangerous hazard. In response to the lawsuit, the city had a maintenance supervisor testify that the city had no actual knowledge of the dangerous condition and that there had never been a similar accident reported nor any report of a dangerous condition.

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