Indiana Tort Claims Act Mandates Timely Notice To Sue

Anytime a person has suffered injuries as a result of an Indiana car crash, we strongly recommend at least setting up an initial consultation with a personal injury lawyer.
kitchenclock.jpg
There are a number of reasons for this, many of which have to do with the time-sensitive nature of injury claims under state law. The case of Schoettmer v. Wright, recently reviewed by the Indiana Supreme Court, is a good example.

This case involves a car accident in which the offending driver was an employee of a government subdivision, making the claim subject to the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which has very strict time requirements for those seeking to pursue damages.

This was not a fact that the plaintiff knew until insurance settlement negotiations fell through and he decided to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit nearly a year after the crash. Although that would have been within the realm of the two-year statute of limitations required for most Indiana injury claims, there was no notice of legal action within 180 days of the incident, as required under ITCA, and specifically Ind. Code 34-13-3-8 (2008).

He may still have a shot at pursuing his claim, per the Indiana Supreme Court’s most recent ruling, but that’s only on a very slim technical basis.

Here’s what happened:

In late November 2008, the plaintiff was driving through an intersection in Indianapolis when he was struck by a woman, later identified as an employee of the South Central Community Action Program. The woman was ultimately cited for the crash.

The plaintiff suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.

The following month, he was contacted by South Central’s insurance company, which told him that his claim could not be settled until his medical treatments were completed. So in late April 2009, when his treatments were done, the plaintiff signed a release allowing the insurance company to access his medical records and bills so that the claim could be settled.

Subsequently, the insurance company made him a settlement offer. However, he balked at the amount, which was not enough to cover his medical expenses. He continued to try to negotiate with the insurance company, but by the fall of that year, he’d had enough. He hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit. By then, almost a year had passed since the crash.

In addition to personal injury damages, his wife also sought damages for loss of consortium.

It was at that time that South Central responded by saying that as a political subdivision, it is governed by the ITCA. As such, the defendant argued that the plaintiff failed to comply with the act’s notification requirements, which demand a more timely notice of pending litigation.

The trial court ultimately granted the defendant’s request for a summary judgment. The appellate court later affirmed that decision, though the court was divided.

In an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court, the plaintiff argued that he should still be granted the opportunity to sue because:

  • South Central itself didn’t raise the ITCA notice defense in a timely fashion;
  • The plaintiff’s cooperation with the insurance company constituted substantial compliance with the notice requirement;
  • The insurance company was acting as South Central’s constructive agent, and notice to the insurance company should have served also as notice to South Central;
  • Even if South Central didn’t receive proper notice, the principle of estoppel should apply to bar the defense claim.

The Indiana Supreme Court ultimately rejected all but the last claim. That means the case can go forward, but it’s by no means a guaranteed win.

Indiana Car Accident Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury matters throughout northern Indiana, including Gary, Hammond and Calumet City. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:
Schoettmer v. Wright, Aug. 27, 2013, Indiana Supreme Court, Appeal from the Marion Superior Court, on Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Steering Clear of Black Ice on Indiana Roadways, Dec. 1, 2013, Highland Car Accident Lawyer Blog