If you are injured because another person is careless, how can you know if it’s a legal matter – if you have grounds for a lawsuit? If you slip on a wet floor at the supermarket and break some bones, or if someone smashes into your vehicle and you’re seriously injured, will the law be on your side?
This is a brief and general introduction to negligence laws and personal injury claims in the state of Indiana, but the first thing that must be emphasized is that every case is different, so if you are the person who has been injured by negligence, you should discuss the details of your own situation with an experienced Evansville personal injury attorney – without delay.
A supermarket’s staff and managers, for example, have a legal duty to shoppers to keep the floors dry and the aisles safe. Drivers have a duty to others on the road to drive safely and to obey all of the traffic rules. A driver who’s speeding or intoxicated has failed his or her duty to others. If that driver injures someone, that driver is legally negligent and may be ordered by a court to pay the injured person’s medical bills and other accident-related expenses including any income lost due to the injury.
PRECISELY HOW DOES INDIANA LAW DEFINE NEGLIGENCE?
Legal negligence happens when someone owes a duty to another person, fails that duty, and thus becomes legally liable for any injuries caused by that failure.
If you are the person who’s been injured by someone’s else’s negligence in Indiana, and you choose to pursue a personal injury lawsuit, you and your attorney must prove all of the following facts – the “elements” of a personal injury case – in order for your lawsuit to succeed:
- The defendant (the negligent party) owed a “duty of care” to the plaintiff (the allegedly injured party).
- The defendant failed to meet that duty of care.
- Without that failure, there would have been no injury.
- The defendant’s failure – and not something else – was a direct cause of the injury.
- The plaintiff was genuinely injured and suffered quantifiable damages.
WHAT IS COMPARATIVE FAULT?
Comparative fault is the legal principle governing personal injury cases in Indiana. The juries that hear these cases are asked to compare the percentage of fault of the different parties involved in an accident and then to reach a verdict on that basis. Let’s say, for example, that you are driving at five miles per hour over the speed limit – illegal, but not reckless.
As you move through a busy intersection on a green traffic signal, you are hit by a reckless, intoxicated driver who was speeding at thirty miles per hour over the limit. You are seriously injured and the other driver is unharmed.
If that case goes to trial, a jury would hear the testimony of both sides, see photographs of the vehicle damages and the accident scene, and be asked to determine who was at fault – and by how much. In this instance, jurors might decide that you are not at fault and that all of the fault falls on the other driver.
Or, the jury might decide that because you were driving slightly over the speed limit, you were 20 percent at fault and the other driver was 80 percent at fault. Once the case goes to a jury, it is entirely that jury’s decision.
But if you want to recover damages as a plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit in Indiana, you and your attorney must be able to prove that you were not the principal person at fault. In this state, if a jury determines that you were 51 percent or more at fault in causing an accident with injuries, you cannot recover damages.
You can recover damages as a plaintiff in Indiana only when the other party or parties are at fault by at least 50 percent. In the example above, if the jury decided that you were 20 percent at fault, and your damages total $100,000, your recovery would be 80 percent of that amount – $80,000.
WHAT IS CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE?
In Indiana, while comparative fault is the governing principle in personal injury cases involving most traffic collisions and most other accidents, comparative fault does not apply in two types of cases. Comparative fault does not apply in cases filed under the Indiana Tort Claims Act – when a private individual sues the state government or any governmental subdivision or agency such as a county or a school district. Comparative fault also does not apply in cases filed under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act, that is, claims against physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers and institutions.
In Indiana, rather than comparative fault, the legal principle governing these two types of personal injury cases is the older legal standard of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence is much harsher – for plaintiffs – than comparative fault.
Under contributory negligence, juries are instructed that a plaintiff may receive damages only if the plaintiff was entirely free of fault. If the jurors determine that a plaintiff was even as much as one percent at fault for his or her own injury, the plaintiff can recover nothing. If you think that’s unfair, you are not alone.
Statutes of limitations in Indiana spell out how much time an injury victim has to file a personal injury claim in this state. In most personal injury and medical malpractice cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury. Although there are some limited exceptions to the two-year restriction, you cannot wait two years to take legal action if you are injured by negligence.
In fact, if you are injured by negligence, you’ll need to obtain medical attention at once and then speak promptly to an experienced Evansville personal injury attorney. Your attorney needs to review the evidence and speak to any witnesses as quickly as possible. Otherwise, evidence will deteriorate, and so will the memories of the witnesses.
Personal injury lawyers will also explain how Indiana’s complex laws regarding negligence will apply in your own case, and if necessary, your attorney will fight tenaciously for the compensation – and for the justice – that you are entitled to as a victim of negligence in this state.