Articles Posted in Premises Liability

When an individual suffers an injury at an Indiana business, they should explore all possible avenues of relief against all potentially liable parties. In addition to the person or entity that is directly responsible for their injuries, Indiana injury victims should consider third-parties, who also contributed to the damages they sustained. In some cases, business owners may be accountable under a negligent entrustment theory when an injury results from a dangerous instrumentality.

For example, recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a case stemming from injuries a woman suffered at a grocery store. Among other issues, the woman filed a negligent entrustment claim against the grocery store when a customer driving a motorized cart struck her. The woman alleged that the grocery chain provided the cart to customers without any instruction or warnings and assumed that the drivers knew how to operate the cart. The lower trial court found in favor of the woman; however, the appellate court ultimately concluded that the woman did not meet the causation element of a negligent entrustment case. Further, they held that she could not prove that the store should have known that the driver would operate the cart negligently or recklessly.

An individual or entity may be liable under the theory of negligent entrustment when they allow a person to operate a dangerous instrumentality, and that person causes an injury to a third party while using that instrumentality. Often, these cases arise when a person entrusts someone with a vehicle or a firearm. Victims in these cases can prevail based on the idea that the person entrusting the item to the negligent party should have known that the person could harm others with the object based on the negligent party’s inexperience or age.

The Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) is a statute designed to allow private individuals a way to hold the government and their employees responsible for tortious acts that they commit. Before the passage of the FTCA, the government was immune from lawsuits based on the theory of sovereign immunity. However, the FTCA allows Indiana injury victims to hold the federal government responsible for their negligent and wrongful acts. However, the FTCA has 13 exceptions to the waiver of immunity, including the often-cited “discretionary function” exception.

The discretionary function exception bars lawsuits based upon claims that arose based on a government actor’s discretionary function or duty. Generally, the court will engage in a two-step inquiry when the government cites this exception. First, the court will look at whether the actions involve an element of judgment or choice, as opposed to a ministerial duty. If an element of choice or judgment exists, then the court will look to whether the judgment was the kind of decision that the exception was designed to shield.

For example, recently, two families sued the United States government under the FTCA when a tree limb fell, killing their sons at a national park. The families filed wrongful death claims against the government, arguing that the park safety officials knew or should have known about the danger of the tree and failed to warn visitors of the threat. The government successfully moved to dismiss the claims, stating that evaluating and responding to the hazard was a discretionary function which was entitled to immunity.

Swimming pools provide Indiana residents with an enjoyable way to spend time with family and friends. However, as with many recreational activities, swimming pools can pose significant dangers to users. In fact, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, Indiana swimming pool accidents rate among the highest in the country for drownings involving children under 15 years old.

Swimming pools pose various hazards and dangers to their users, including, drowning, slip and falls, and injuries because of pool drains. In many instances, these accidents occur because there are a lack of safety features and devices such as fences and flotation devices. Moreover, many times, owners fail to employ lifeguards and maintain railings and ladders. Swimming pool owners and operators can take simple steps to prevent common pool and spa hazards. Owners should install fences around their pool. They should also ensure that there are proficient adult lifeguards and swimmers on site. Moreover, owners and operators should keep up with pool maintenance.

In many cases, owners can be liable for injuries that people sustain while using their pools. Liability depends on the owner and the visitor’s legal classification. Generally, visitors are designated into three categories, either an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. An invitee may be a guest who uses a public pool. Typically, the owner must maintain and repair the pool to prevent injuries. Licensees, are commonly social guests using a pool on private property. In these cases, the owner must warn their guests of hazards that may not be obvious. Lastly, owners must not intentionally harm trespassers, but they do not owe them any other duty unless the pool is an attractive nuisance.

When a person slips, and falls on another’s property in Indiana, the fall victim may be able to collect damages for the injuries they sustained. Indiana premises liability law establishes when a property owner is responsible for an accident victim’s injuries. Thus, it is important that slip and fall victims understand the state’s statute of limitations, duties, defenses, and damages before filing a lawsuit against a negligent property owner.

Under Indiana Code section 34-11-2-4, personal injury complainants must comply with the state’s two-year deadline. The statute of limitations applies to all negligence, intentional tort, and defamation lawsuits in Indiana. There are certain exceptions to the two-year deadline, such as if the injured party was under 18 years old at the time of the accident or they are mentally incapacitated. An exception may also apply if the culpable party leaves the state or attempts to conceal their identity.

Indiana slip and fall victims must be able to establish that the property owner owes the plaintiff a duty to exercise reasonable care from foreseeable hazards on the property. However, it is essential to note that the law does not require property owners to ensure a person’s safety while they are on the property. Typically, a property owner will be liable if they had knowledge of the dangerous condition, or if it was present for enough time that the owner should have discovered the hazard and prevented the injury. Indiana property owners must inspect and keep their property in a reasonably safe condition.

Understanding the limitations of Indiana personal injury law is essential. A lack of understanding can result in filing a claim that is a waste of time and money. A state appellate court recently dismissed a personal injury case that the court found was filed two years too late. According to the court’s opinion, in June 2016, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint for damages that he claimed he sustained on about June 6, 2012.

Evidently, the plaintiff was climbing an attic ladder in a residential home in order to repair a leak when the ladder collapsed. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant construction company that built and sold the home and was negligent in failing to ensure that the ladder was secure and properly installed. The defendant argued that the suit was barred by the applicable ten-year statute of repose. Similar to statutes of limitations, statutes of repose limit the time during which a claim can be filed. Yet, unlike statutes of limitations, statutes of repose are construed more strictly to provide a finite period of time during which the claim must be filed.

The defendant claimed that in July 2003, it entered into an agreement with the home’s original owners, agreeing to build and sell the home to the owners. The construction was completed around April 30, 2004, and the owners took possession of the home on May 7, 2004. The plaintiff argued that the claim was not founded on the “construction of an improvement to real property.”

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.

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;

In May of 2019, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in an Indiana premises liability case discussing whether the jury should have been presented with the evidence that the plaintiff was not wearing a hard hat when he was injured. Finding that Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act precluded the admission of a plaintiff’s failure to wear safety equipment unless such a failure was related to the cause of his injury, the court reversed the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant and ordered a new trial.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff agreed to help his friend, the defendant, cut down trees on his property. The two agreed the plaintiff would operate the chain saw, and the defendant would keep an eye out for any hazards. While the plaintiff was cutting down a tree, a dead branch fell onto the plaintiff’s head, resulting in near-fatal injuries. The plaintiff was not wearing a hardhat.

At trial, the defendant presented evidence to the jury that the plaintiff did not wear a hardhat and thus assumed the risk of any injury that befell him. The defendant explicitly told the court that he was not arguing that the plaintiff’s injuries would have been less serious if he was wearing a hardhat; the sole focus of the defendant’s argument was that the plaintiff was negligent himself, and should not be permitted to recover for his injuries. The court concluded that the evidence could be used “to show assumption of risk, comparative fault, and whether [the plaintiff] acted as a reasonably careful person.” The jury ultimately found that the plaintiff was 51% at fault and the defendant 49% at fault. Under the Indiana Comparative Fault Act, the plaintiff recovered nothing. The plaintiff appealed.

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.”

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.