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Recently, an Indiana appellate court issued a ruling regarding personal injury claims resulting from participation in sports activity. According to the court’s opinion, the case involved a horse jockey who was injured while training a horse at a racetrack. The jockey was injured when another horse, which had thrown off its rider, barreled into the jockey’s horse tossing him to the ground. The jockey sued the racetrack and the horse’s owner for damages based on negligence and premises liability. However, the court found in favor of the defendants, and the jockey was prevented from recovering damages for his injuries. The court’s opinion could have far-reaching implications for individuals injured while participating in sporting activities.

In reviewing the plaintiff’s claims, the court first reviewed Indiana sports-injury law, and mentioned a few important precedents. First, there is the rule of assumption of duty, which states that an actor who provides safety measures as a service to another and is aware the services will reduce a risk of harm to that individual owes a duty of care to that individual. A defendant violates that duty of care, and may be held liable for resulting injury, if (1) they are negligent in providing that service and it results in an increased risk of harm, or (2) the individual receiving the services relies on the actor in assuming the risk of injury involved. Next, the court discussed the concept that a sports participant cannot be held liable for causing injury to another while engaging in conduct ordinary to the sport unless they acted recklessly or with intent to cause the injury. This rule is rooted in public policy, and designed to prevent discouragement of athletic participation due to vexatious litigation.

In applying these principles to the case in its opinion, the court first pointed out that the plaintiff did not make any allegations that the racetrack owner’s negligence in employing certain safety measures it had in place increased the risk of harm to the plaintiff. Furthermore, the plaintiff did not present any evidence showing that he relied on the racetrack’s safety measures properly when deciding to engage in the activity. In effect, the court found that the plaintiff assumed the risk of injury associated with participation in the activity. Therefore, the court ruled against the plaintiff in regard to his claims against the racetrack owner.

The human instinct to help those in need, even at the risk of one’s own safety, is commendable. When a person is injured during such a situation, the rescue doctrine can come into play. In Indiana, the rescue doctrine allows an individual who is injured attempting to rescue someone from a dangerous situation to hold the negligent actor liable. In order to bring a successful claim, the rescuer must prove: (1) the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to protect him from injury; (2) the defendant failed to perform that duty; and (3) the plaintiff’s harm resulted from the defendant’s failure to protect him from injury. If an individual is considered a rescuer, then he is owed a duty of care by those that contributed to the dangerous situation.

In a recent case, another state supreme court was recently tasked with deciding whether a man qualified as a rescuer when he was injured after encouraging others to stop fighting. Ultimately, the court concluded that the plaintiff was a rescuer despite exerting no bodily activity to intervene in the situation. However, in Indiana, an individual must actually attempt to rescue and exert physical effort to be qualified as a rescuer.   

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was injured after attempting to rescue a taxi cab driver from an intoxicated passenger. Hearing cries for help, the plaintiff approached the cab and told the passenger to stop punching the driver. The plaintiff was then hit over the head and run over by the passenger. He filed a lawsuit against the taxi cab company because they had knowledge of previous passenger attacks on drivers but had failed to install partitions or security cameras. Relying on the rescue doctrine, he claimed he was injured while rescuing the driver, who was owed a duty by the cab company, meaning it also owed a duty to him. Among other issues, the court was tasked with deciding whether the plaintiff was considered a rescuer even though he did not take bodily action to save the driver from danger. The court ruled that, rather than requiring physical intervention, one must assess whether a plaintiff can qualify as a rescuer based on three important factors: (1) the plaintiff’s reason for acting, (2) the plaintiff’s reasonable belief that someone was in imminent peril, and (3) the utility of the plaintiff’s conduct. The plaintiff satisfied the test and qualified as a rescuer.

Everyone knows that driving involves a certain level of risk for the driver and their passengers. However, many Indiana car accidents are preventable and drivers are able to reduce many of the risks that can lead to an accident. When these avoidable accidents occur because of a lack of compliance with Indiana laws, the parties responsible can be held accountable through an Indiana personal injury lawsuit.

In a recent news report, a local construction worker was tragically killed in northwest Indiana. Evidently, at around 2:00 am, the individual’s construction vehicle was pulled over onto the right shoulder of the road when a semi-truck hit the worker’s vehicle, killing him. The construction worker was in his vehicle and responsible for collecting barrels on the shoulder of the road when the semi struck his car. According to the ongoing investigation by state police, authorities are still examining how the construction truck was struck by the semi when it was pulled off the road and on the shoulder, especially as road conditions appeared dry at the time of the incident. Because the investigation is ongoing, it is still unclear if any charges will be filed as a result of this incident.

Tragedies like this are a somber reminder of the risks that motorists can be exposed to when driving or involved in an accident. While car accidents can occur anywhere and often happen on a regular basis, many Indiana construction and highway workers, emergency responders, and individuals who work for law enforcement are more likely to be in roadside accidents because of the nature of their work. However, many of these incidents would be avoidable if Indiana motorists simply exercised a more proactive, vigilant approach while driving on a daily basis.

As the weather warms up and summer rolls in, flocks of people will begin to make their way to water parks around Indiana where they can enjoy time with family and cool off, or seek the thrill of a roller coaster or a water slide. While most of these trips are packed with fun memories, these parks are often unable to guarantee visitors’ safety, and should be held accountable if a ride or attraction causes a visitor’s injuries.

According to a recent appellate opinion, a plaintiff brought a products liability suit against a local water park after he was injured while going down a water slide. The plaintiff inadvertently slipped from a seated position on an inner tube onto his stomach, and when he entered the pool below, his feet hit the bottom and he fractured his pelvis and hip. Despite the evidence of injury presented by the plaintiff, the trial court ruled in favor of the defense on the products liability claim.

On appeal, the defense argued that the plaintiff’s product liability claims should fail because the water park provides its patrons with a service, rather than a product. The park argued that guests pay admission to obtain a “service” involving the use of water slides rather than paying a fee to primarily use the water slides. Thus, according to the defendant, the plaintiff’s product liability claim was not a viable theory of recovery.

Tragedy struck recently in Fort Wayne, Indiana when a crash between a motorcycle and a car turned deadly, killing the motorcyclist. According to a news report covering the incident, the crash occurred on Sunday, May 24, around 2:40 p.m. at the intersection of Illinois Road and Thomas Road. The motorcycle was driving east on Illinois Road and struck a car that was turning into its path. When authorities arrived on the scene, they found an adult female laying on the ground in critical condition. She was immediately transported to the hospital, where she died shortly after.

Cases like this highlight the dangers that motorcyclists face when involved in accidents. While any motor vehicle accident is of concern, motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable because there is less protection between their bodies and the road, or with other vehicles. Because of this, accidents involving motorcycles are more likely to result in severe injuries or death.

The incident in Fort Wayne is still under investigation, so it is not yet clear who was at fault. If, however, the driver of the car was at all negligent or responsible for the accident, the deceased cyclist’s family members may be able to file a wrongful death suit against them. Indiana law allows the estate of a deceased accident victim to file such claims, and damages may be awarded to the estate or to individual family members, such as the deceased’s spouse, children, or parents. To be successful, the estate typically must prove that the other driver was negligent in some way—for example, that they were texting while driving, or that they failed to follow basic road safety—and that their negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the accident and the victim’s death. If the defendant was texting while driving five minutes before the crash, but then was driving perfectly safely when the accident occurred, it may be difficult to prove causation. If, however, the defendant was texting while driving when the crash occurred, causation will be easier to prove.

Like many other states, Indiana premises liability law generally allows those injured on someone else’s property to file a civil negligence suit against the property owner. For example, if someone slips and falls on a wet floor in a grocery store, or trips on an uneven sidewalk in front of someone’s house, they likely have a potential negligence suit against the owner of the grocery store or house property. However, Indiana also has what is called a recreational-use statute, to insulate certain landowners from such claims. The law, which is in Indiana Code section 14-22-10-2, provides that landowners who allow those to use their property for recreational purposes—such as swimming, camping, or sightseeing—without charging a fee are not liable for the injuries occurring on the property.

For an example of a personal injury suit that would likely be barred by this statute, take a recent appellate opinion from Georgia, a state with a similar law. According to the court’s written opinion, a public park was used by a University to set up a free concert series. On the night in question, the plaintiff attended the concert with her sister, but as she was leaving, she fell backward on a staircase with no handrails, sustaining serious head injuries and ultimately dying. Her estate filed a wrongful death suit against the University group that held the concert, but the defendants claimed their suit was barred by the Georgia recreational use statute.

The question in the case was whether the defendant invited people to the park for recreational or commercial purposes. The plaintiffs attempted to argue that the concert served a commercial purpose, since the defendant invited vendors to sell food and drinks, and allowed sponsors to erect tents with their logos to promote their businesses. However, the defendants were able to convince the court that the purpose was recreational despite these facts, since concert-goers were not required to purchase food or drinks and could bring their own, and there was no fee charged for the concert. As a result, the deceased’s estate could not recover in a wrongful death suit against the University group, and in fact could not even bring the suit to court.

Under Indiana Code Title 9 Motor Vehicles section 9-21-8-35, motorists should proceed cautiously and change lanes when they approach emergency vehicles that are displaying flashing lights or giving audible signals. Individuals who fail to abide by these rules may be subject to criminal or civil charges. Some common vehicles that Indiana drivers should watch for are:

  • Police vehicles
  • Fire trucks and rescue crews

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Indiana truck drivers travel over several millions of miles on the state’s roadways each year, and over 400,000 of these vehicles are involved in crashes. Indiana experiences a high number of trucking accidents every year, in part because of the state’s geographic location. The state acts as a conduit for freight delivery between states, which results in significant truck traffic. Further, commercial vehicle registration is significantly less expensive than several other surrounding states. Many trucking companies maintain hubs in the state because of the lower registration fees.

Indiana truck accidents are among the most likely to result in serious injury or death because large trucks can cause significant damage. Many trucks weigh up to 80,000 pounds or more when they are loaded with cargo. The sheer magnitude of these vehicles makes them disproportionately more likely to be involved in a multi-vehicle accident.

Truck drivers often remain unscathed during these accidents because their vehicles protect them. For example, recently, an Indianapolis man died in a wrong-way crash with a semi-truck. According to a local news report, the 72-year-old man died when he was driving in the wrong lane and slammed into an enormous truck. The driver of the Freightliner noticed the man approaching him and tried to avoid the collision but could not do so in time. The truck driver and his co-driver did not suffer any injuries. Another vehicle then collided into a state patrol car while police were investigating the scene of the accident.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana recently issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from injuries a woman suffered after she fell and hit her head outside of her apartment complex. According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the apartment complex and rental company, alleging that they breached their duty of keeping the public walkways and entry areas safe from dangerous conditions. In response, the apartment company filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to strike the plaintiff’s expert report. The trial court granted the defendant summary judgment, and the woman filed an appeal arguing that there was a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the apartment complex breached its duty to the plaintiff.

Under Indiana law, summary judgment is designed to terminate litigation when there is no dispute as to a genuine issue of material fact. A material fact is one that is relevant to the ultimate resolution of an issue in the case. In the context of negligence cases, summary judgment is frequently inappropriate because the cases are often fact-specific and governed by a “reasonable person” standard. However, the court may grant summary judgment motions when an undisputed piece of material evidence eliminates a critical element of a negligence claim. Plaintiffs who want to recover from a landlord must show that the landlord breached a duty that they owed the plaintiff. Moreover, typically, plaintiffs cannot succeed on a negligence claim merely by showing that they fell and suffered injuries; they must generally show that the landlord knew or should have known about the hazard.

In this case, the plaintiff argued that the apartment company failed to remove hazardous ice, which caused her to slip and fall. Further, in addition to evidence of her fall, the plaintiff testified that on the day of the accident, she tried to avoid a slippery area by walking on the service ramp. Although, she could not see the ice on the service ramp, she assumed she slipped because of the ice. The defendants maintain that the ramp was not icy, and they bolstered their position by pointing to the plaintiff’s statement that she did not see the ice. The court reasoned that because the plaintiff’s claim was not based on inferential speculation, there remained a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the apartment company breached its duty to maintain a safe walkway. Ultimately, the court reversed the trial court’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Naturally, family members who lose a loved one as a result of another’s negligence hope to seek justice on their loved one’s behalf. While no amount of compensation could take the place of a lost loved one, it can provide the family with some financial and emotional relief during these tragic times. Under state law, an Indiana wrongful death lawsuit may be appropriate when the death of an individual is the result of another’s wrongful act or omission. In these cases, the representative or estate of the deceased individual serves as the plaintiff to establish liability and seek monetary damages. Many of these lawsuits stem from Indiana medical malpractice claims, nursing home abuse and neglect cases, and motor vehicle accidents.

Indiana allows a personal representative of the individual’s estate to file a claim, but courts will only award damages to the deceased’s spouse, child, or dependents. In cases where there are multiple beneficiaries, courts will decide how the award should be divided. Lawsuits involving children must be brought by the child’s parent or legal guardian.

Like all civil lawsuits, Indiana wrongful death claims must follow the state’s strict statute of limitations. Under the law, plaintiffs must file their wrongful death claims within two years of the victim’s death. Family members who do not comply with the statute of limitations may risk dismissal and any chance for recovery. These time limits apply even when the victim is a child or if there is an ongoing criminal lawsuit for the same event.

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