Indiana personal injury lawsuits often involve just two parties, the victim and the individual or entity that caused the victim’s injury. However, some Indiana car accidents include several parties, depending on the circumstances surrounding the accident. Most frequently, this occurs in multi-vehicle crashes. In such cases, it may be challenging to establish the course of events that led up to the victim’s injury.

For example, recently, seven people were injured, and three died in a multi-vehicle accident on an Indiana highway. Tragically, a 29-year-old woman and her toddlers were the individuals that suffered fatal injuries in the crash. According to a local Indiana news report, the deadly accident involved seven vehicles, including a semi-trailer. The domino effect apparently began when the semi-trailer slammed into the cars in front of the truck.

The truck driver told police officials that he was forced to slam on his brakes when a vehicle that was not involved in the accident cut in front of him. The sudden braking caused him to crash into several cars. However, other witnesses claimed that they witnessed the truck driver speeding on the highway. They believe he quickly applied his brakes because he did not notice the stopped traffic in front of him. One of the cars the truck hit was dragged about 300 yards before eventually crashing into two additional vehicles. Although state police arrested the truck driver, the driver still maintains that the accident occurred because he was cut off.

Those who have been injured as a result of another’s negligence may be able to recover various types of damages by filing a personal injury lawsuit. In an Indiana personal injury case, there are two types of damages that a plaintiff may recover, compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory damages are designed to make the plaintiff whole again. These damages often encompass economic losses that the plaintiff has suffered because of their injuries. Plaintiffs may try to recover economic and non-economic losses making a claim for compensatory damages. The most common economic damages are lost wages and medical expenses. Whereas, the most common claim for non-economic damages is for losses related to disfigurement or scarring. Also, Indiana plaintiffs may try to recover damages related to mental anguish, emotional distress, pain and suffering, permanent disability, and property damage.

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant for their behavior. Generally, punitive damages are only available in cases in which defendants engaged in fraud, willful negligence, malice, or egregious conduct. Punitive damages are intended to deter the defendant from participating in the same behavior. Indiana plaintiffs injured because of particularly egregious behavior may be entitled to punitive damages.

Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a written opinion in a product liability case discussing whether the lower court properly prevented the plaintiff’s expert from testifying. While the case did not arise in Indiana, it raises important issues for Indiana personal injury victims regarding the use and selection of expert witnesses. Additionally, the case provides some guidance for Indiana litigants, in that Indiana is in the Seventh Circuit.

According to the court’s opinion, the plaintiff was seriously injured at work while getting off a “car crushing” machine. Evidently, he slipped on a puddle of hydraulic fluid that had leaked from the machine. The plaintiff could not pursue a personal injury case against his employer due to the availability of workers’ compensation benefits. However, the plaintiff filed a claim against the manufacturer of the machine, as well as the company that leased the machine to the plaintiff’s employer. The plaintiff claimed that the machine was defectively designed.

In support of his claim, the plaintiff presented a professor in mechanical engineering as an expert witness. The expert planned to testify that the machine should have had a ladder, toe boards, and a guardrail installed to make it safe for users. The expert presented a safer proposed design in theory, but did not offer any sketches or elaborate on the concept.

Recently, a state appellate court issued a decision in an Indiana product liability case discussing whether the manufacturer of a component part can be held liable for its failure to install what the plaintiff alleges is a necessary safety feature. The court concluded that this case was somewhat unique in that the component part at issue had only one final use, and because of that, the question of whether a duty existed should be resolved by a jury.

According to the court’s opinion, a semi-truck was backing up on a job site when it ran over a construction foreman. The foreman died as a result of his injuries. The foreman’s wife (“the plaintiff”) filed a wrongful death case against the defendant, under a theory of product liability.

The defendant manufactured the “glider kit,” which consists of the frame and body of the truck. To turn the glider kit into a completed semi-truck, the purchaser must install an engine, transmission, and exhaust system. The glider kit did not come with any back-up cameras or alarms. However, a purchaser could opt to add those items onto the kit at an additional cost.

Although the Indiana Department of Transportation (DOT) declined to install a traffic signal at an intersection, possibly playing a role in a fatal car accident that later occurred at the site, the state appellate court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the agency.

Ultimately, the court ruled, provisions of the Indiana Tort Claims Act shielded the government from civil liability.

That does not necessarily mean plaintiffs were without any options for recovering damages, but it does mean those damages will not come from the state government. This negligence and wrongful death lawsuit outcome illustrates the difficulties associated with holding government agencies accountable in injury litigation, as they enjoy a number of broad legal protections.

Plaintiffs Assert Negligent Road Design in Fatal Crash

The case was filed following a deadly summer 2014 crash in West Lafayette, at an intersection constructed as part of the state’s Major Moves project, an aggressive, decade-long plan to improve Indiana’s highway infrastructure. When the Indiana DOT (INDOT) began construction, both city and county officials requested a temporary traffic control signal. INDOT, however, declined, finding the intersection didn’t meet traffic volume requirements to justify a signal, but did install a stop sign for east-west drivers. Continue reading

A man from Indiana is one of a half a dozen people alleging a food product company sold unreasonably dangerous cooking spray that exploded while in use, causing severe burns.

Local news reports indicate the Indianapolis plaintiff, a medical student, sustained burns back in March, 2019,  while cooking with his girlfriend. He spent months in the hospital and had to undergo numerous skin grafts and other surgeries after suffering burns on most of his upper body. He and other plaintiffs are now incensed the company refuses to recall the product and insists the cooking spray is safe.

Plaintiff was cooking when a can of the common spray, sitting near the stove top, reportedly exploded, erupting into a fire. As his girlfriend noted, “He’s a full-time med student. He’s educated. He’s very smart – and he had no idea.”

A trucker severely injured when his trailer contents fell on him as he opened  the trailer door won a partial legal victory when the Indiana Court of Appeals recently overturned a summary judgment against the trucking company whose employee loaded the trailer.

Munster personal injury attorneys will note that while this was a work-related injury, which presumably would entitle the truck driver to workers’ compensation from his own employer, such third-party lawsuits to cover the full cost of losses is not uncommon in Indiana.

The trial court in this case held that both the engine parts manufacturer whose cargo was stowed in the truck, and the trucking company contracted to facilitate transport, did not owe a duty of care to the over-the-road-truck driver, whose employer was contracted by the trucking company to deliver the materials over longer distances. The state appellate court last month reversed this decision, at least as it pertained to the trucking company that contracted with the driver’s employer.

Indiana businesses may want to take note and review their customer safety and security policies and procedures given a recent appellate court ruling which affirmed a bar owner’s legal duty to be proactive in protecting patrons after a customer was seriously injured in a brawl.

Civil cases like this fall under the umbrella of premises liability. Assuming a person is not trespassing and has a right or invitation to be there (paying customers especially), those who own/control property generally have a duty to exercise reasonable care to shield against known or foreseeable hazards. Whether a property owner can be held liable in these situations varies greatly depending on a host of factors, chief among them whether there is a prior history of dangerous incidents that effectively places the business on notice that more stringent safety measures are needed. The big questions are usually: what constitutes “reasonable” and “foreseeable”, especially when an incident involves a criminal attack by a third-party.

In a recent decision, the main point of contention before the Indiana Court of Appeals was whether the bar owed any duty at all to a patron, given that the fight that resulted in serious injury occurred in the parking lot after closing.

A woman injured in an alleged Indiana drunk driving accident this month won her appeal seeking pursuit of punitive damages against the defendant. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant. The ruling is a victory for victims of Indiana drunk drivers in once again affirming the well-established view of courts in Indiana (going at least as far back as the Indiana Supreme Court’s 1985 ruling in Williams v. Crist) about the egregious wrong one does in taking the wheel while drunk. In that case nearly 35 years ago, the state high court held unequivocally: A person guilty of impaired driving is automatically guilty of the “willful and wanton misconduct” requirement necessary to to seek punitive damages in an Indiana injury lawsuit.

Why Punitive Damages in Indiana Drunk Driving Claims Matter

If you suffer injury and/or other losses because of somebody else’s negligence, there are two general kinds of damages you can pursue. The first, compensatory damages, applies in every case and the goal is monetary compensation that aims to “make the plaintiff whole.”

Of course, our Munster drunk driving injury lawyers know that there really is nothing – no amount of money – that can achieve that goal. There is absolutely no price tag on catastrophic injuries or death, and those affected would give back every dime if it meant they could regain what they lost. Still, the goal of compensatory damages is all about what a plaintiff has lost and what can be offered to help them heal to the fullest extent possible. The amount is supposed to be calculated in a way that equitably compensates a person, sometimes dollar-for-dollar (i.e., medical bills), but other times for intangible losses like pain and suffering and loss of consortium.
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All drivers in the State of Indiana are required to purchase some combination of auto insurance as set by state lawmakers, currently a minimum of 25/50/10 ($25,000 per person/$50,000 per crash bodily injury liability and $10,000 for property damage). That 25/50 coverage isn’t for the policy holder. It’s to cover damages caused by the insured’s negligence (because Indiana is an at-fault and not a no-fault state). And although Indiana doesn’t require drivers to buy UIM crash insurance (underinsured motorist coverage) in case an at-fault driver’s policy isn’t sufficient to cover the damages, IN Code 27-7-5-2 does mandate that auto insurers offer every policy standard with it and insured must sign a written waiver to decline. Munster car accident attorneys know the law is also clear that UIM limits are never to exceed the limit of bodily injury liability coverage.

A question recently before the Indiana Court of Appeals was whether a UIM insurer was legally barred for selling a policy with UIM coverage in amounts less than bodily injury liability coverage. Could a policy be invalidated on that basis?

The court answered no in Troy Lee v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Companydisagreeing with the plaintiff truck driver who was injured in an on-the-job crash that the amounts had to be the same. Continue reading