Millions of people are injured in U.S. car accidents annually. Roughly 30,000 die. Road rage injuries and deaths can be included in those figures, but not always. If a person is rear-ended by an aggressive driver following too closely, failing to yield or traveling too fast for road conditions (as spelled out in Title 9 of Indiana Code on motor vehicles), such instances would be included in crash statistics. However, incidents involving person-on-person violence stemming from road rage likely would not. For Highland personal injury attorneys, that difference is also instructive when determining a road rage victim’s legal options. That’s because while accidents are covered by Indiana auto insurers, intentional acts of violence generally are not, and are usually expressly excluded in the policy language.
That does not mean violent road rage incidents are not actionable and compensable, but your injury lawyer will have to carefully examine the facts of the case to identify defendants, determine theories of liability and find out whether there is a means to actually collect on whatever damages may be won.
Indiana Worst for Road Rage Fatal Injuries
Indiana was recently ranked the worst state for road rage by the Auto Insurance Center, which determined 10 percent of fatal crashes in Indiana between 2005 and 2015 involved road rage and aggressive driving. Troopers say drivers who commit road rage are either ignorant of the law or do not care. Even those in marked patrol cars say they have been targeted by road rage.
The Tribune Star in Terre Haute reported recently on numerous cases of serious and deadly road rage in Indiana. Those included a 31-year-old shot and killed in Indianapolis after two drivers who both flipped each other off, drew guns and fired. Another case involved a 26-year-old man arrested in Plainfield on a charge of felony intimidation after allegedly pointing a handgun at a woman driving her children on I-70. In Fort Wayne, a 27-year-old man faces involuntary manslaughter charges for allegedly in a road rage incident beating a 60-year-old man who died soon thereafter of a heart attack. In Terre Haute, a 52-year-old man was arrested for allegedly intentionally running vehicles off the roadway.
Indiana Road Rage Case Weighed on Appeal
In 2008, the Indiana Court of Appeal considered a road rage injury lawsuit that is instructive with regard to future cases. In Clark and Biddle v. Simbeck, defendants had been drinking alcohol with friends, ran out of cigarettes and decided to go to the store to purchase more. After they left, the driver in the vehicle ended up behind plaintiffs’ vehicle. Defendants vehicle was following so closely, plaintiffs became concerned. Defendant driver reportedly started playing “a game” by pulling alongside plaintiffs, slowing down or increasing speed to confuse him. Finally, defendants passed plaintiffs and proceeded down the road, weaving from side to side. Plaintiff passenger called police to report defendant driver was potentially endangering motorists. Plaintiff passenger told her husband, who was driving, to follow defendants’ vehicle until the police arrived, and also not to drive home so that defendants wouldn’t learn where they lived.
When defendants reached their destination and exited, plaintiff driver got out and began yelling. The two men attacked both plaintiffs, severely injuring the male driver. The pair were arrested and and criminally charged with multiple criminal counts, of which they were later convicted.
Subsequently, plaintiffs filed this Indiana road rage injury lawsuit, alleging liability for their injuries. At a bench trial, plaintiff driver was awarded about $739,000 and plaintiff passenger was awarded $26,000. Defendants were also ordered to pay $60,000 each in punitive damages.
Defendants appealed, arguing the trial court was wrong for denying a motion for continuance when it was plaintiffs – not them – who caused the greatest delay. However, as noted by the court, delays were mostly due to surgeries and healing necessitated by the attack. Appellate court disagreed trial court abused its discretion on this point. Further, the court noted that defendants, who were pro se litigants and argued they were prejudiced by a bench rather than jury trial on the issue of comparative fault, never raised the issue of comparative fault. This is allowed under Ind. Code 34-52-2-1 and applicable to intentional tort cases. However, the law does state that with intentional torts, the Indiana Comparative Fault Act does not impact a defendant’s liability, but it can decrease the amount of plaintiff’s damages.
As our Highland injury attorneys can point out, because this case involved an intentional tort, the defendants were held personally liable for the damages awarded. That means there was no insurance company that is going to step in and pay the claim, so it’s questionable whether plaintiffs will actually collect those damages in full. However, given the severity of their injuries, personal injury lawyers clearly thought the case still worth pursuing.
Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.
Hoosier road rage common, sometimes fatal, Sept. 15, 2018, By Lisa Trigg, Tribune Star
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