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Can a plaintiff’s medical bills be introduced as evidence by a defendant when the plaintiff is not seeking reimbursement for the medical bills as an item of damages? Yes, according to the Indiana Court of Appeals’ recent opinion in Gladstone v. W. Bend Mut. Ins. Co.

Daniel Gladstone (“Gladstone”) filed a lawsuit against Christina Carli (“Carli”) and his own insurance company, West Bend Mutual Insurance Company (“West Bend”), seeking damages for injuries he sustained, including a Colles fracture, in an automobile accident with Carli. Carli paid her automobile liability policy limits of $50,000.00 and was dismissed from the case. Gladstone sought damages from West Bend under his underinsured insurance coverage, which had a policy limit of $250,000.00. Gladstone’s medical bills were $14,000.00 but had been reduced to just under $2,000.00. The trial court allowed West Bend to introduce evidence of Gladstone’s reduced medical bills at trial, over Gladstone’s objection and despite the fact that Gladstone was not seeking medical expenses in the case, and the jury returned a verdict of $0.00 for Gladstone.

Gladstone appealed the trial court’s decision admitting his medical bills into evidence. Under Indiana law, a trial court’s decision to admit or exclude evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion resulting in prejudicial error, which is very deferential to trial courts. A party seeking reversal of a trial court’s evidentiary ruling must show the trial court’s decision was clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances, or that the trial court misinterpreted the law.

Governmental entities in Indiana have a duty to exercise reasonable care to keep roadways and sidewalks reasonably safe for travel. However, governmental entities also enjoy immunity under certain circumstances. In two recent cases dealing with governmental immunity for losses caused by temporary conditions of roadways resulting from weather, the Indiana Court of Appeals has questioned and raised concerns with the Indiana Supreme Court’s analytical framework set forth in the 2002 decision of Catt v. Bd. of Comm’rs of Knox Cty., 779 N.E. 2d 1 (Ind. 2002).

The plaintiff in Catt was injured when his vehicle slid and crashed into a ditch in Knox County caused by a washed-out culvert following a rainstorm the night before. The culvert had washed out many times prior to Catt’s car accident and had been repaired. The plaintiff alleged Knox County had negligently inspected, designed or maintained the roadway. However, the Indiana Supreme Court held Knox County, despite any negligence, was immune from liability under section 34-13-3-3(3) of the Indiana Tort Claims Act, which provides “[a] governmental entity… is not liable if a loss results from… [t]he temporary condition of a public thoroughfare… that results from weather.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-3(3). The Court framed the question as whether the washed-out culvert was due to weather and whether Knox County had the opportunity to repair the washed-out culvert and failed to do so (i.e., whether it was temporary versus permanent), regardless of any prior negligent inspection, design or maintenance or the frequency with which the culvert may have washed out on prior occasions. Since the washed-out culvert was caused by weather, Knox County had not received notice that it had washed out on this occasion prior to the collision, and Knox County was busy repairing other washed-out culverts and had previously repaired this one, the Court found the washed-out culvert was caused by weather and was a temporary condition.

In subsequent cases based on Catt, the Indiana Supreme Court has further explained that governmental immunity for temporary conditions resulting from weather applies during the “window of reasonable response” to the road condition. That window lasts until the condition stabilizes. That is, if the condition continues to worsen or is still evolving, the condition has not stabilized and is therefore deemed temporary, and the government is immune.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently requested the Indiana Supreme Court address two questions through a process known as certification of questions.  Both Seventh Circuit Rule 52(a) and Indiana Rule of Appellate Procedure 64 recognize federal courts may seek guidance from a state’s highest court on questions arising under the law of that state which will control the outcome of a case pending in federal court.

The questions arose out of a tragic car crash in Gibson County, Indiana, which claimed the lives of two drivers and a passenger.  Sylvia Watson was driving from a repair shop in Owensville, Indiana to Princeton, when she approached a red light and exclaimed to the sole survivor of the crash, her granddaughter/passenger, Brandy Mayer, that she could not stop the vehicle.  Watson’s vehicle struck a vehicle driven by Claudine Cutchin, whose daughter, Adelaide, was in the passenger seat.  Claudine died at the scene and Watson and Adelaide died later from the injuries suffered.

A blood test on Watson revealed opiates in her bloodstream and Mayer recounted Watson had taken two pills before leaving the repair shop.  It was later discovered that a physician had prescribed Watson eight different medications, including an opioid and muscle relaxers.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of Eric McGowen (“McGowen”) in a counterclaim filed by Bradley Montes (“Montes”) for injuries Montes suffered when he rear-ended McGowen’s semi-truck, which was stopped on a county road while McGowen was attempting to assist another motorist who had been involved in a prior car accident. The collision occurred on an early foggy morning in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. McGowen, driving under the speed limit due to poor visibility, stopped in the road when he noticed a heavily damaged truck in a ditch on the side of the road and a man, Ryan Patton (“Patton”), appearing drunk or injured. McGowen stopped in the road, with his brake lights illuminated, rolled down his window, and asked Patton if Patton wanted him to call 911. Patton asked McGowen to call 911. Within fifteen to thirty seconds from McGowen stopping in the road, Montes collided into the rear of McGowen’s semi-truck.

McGowen filed a motion for summary judgment asking the trial court to find that he was shielded from liability under Indiana’s Good Samaritan Law (“GSL”), Indiana Code § 34-30-12-1. The GSL states in pertinent part that “a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency or accident… and, in good faith, gratuitously renders emergency care at the scene of the emergency or accident is immune from civil liability for any personal injury that results from (1) any act or omission by the person in rendering the emergency care; or (2) any act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person; except for acts or omissions amounting to gross negligence or willful or wanton misconduct.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b). The trial court found that McGowen was rendering emergency care when the collision occurred but there was a genuine issue of material fact for the jury as to whether his stopping in the road was grossly negligent or willful or wanton misconduct. McGowen and Montes both appealed.

Montes argued on appeal that McGowen was not rendering “emergency care” and there was no emergency at the time of the collision. As a matter of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that stopping and asking if a person who has been in an accident needs help is “emergency care,” reasoning that “emergency care” as outlined in the statutory language of the GSL encompasses actions other than direct medical treatment or first aid and includes an “act or failure to act to provide or arrange for further medical treatment or care for the injured person.” Ind. Code § 34-30-12-1(b)(2). As to whether an emergency existed, the Court relied upon previous precedent defining an “accident” as a “sudden calamitous event,” and held that McGowen coming upon the scene of an accident with a potentially injured person qualified as an emergency under the GSL.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a property owner finding it had no duty to the traveling public as a result of tall grass on its property. In Reece v. Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc., a 92-year-old motorist, Harold Moistner (“Moistner”), pulled out into an intersection and collided with a motorcycle being driven by Walter Reece. Walter suffered catastrophic brain injuries in the motorcycle-vehicle collision. The investigating police officer completed a report and documented that tall grass on the northwest side of the intersection would have limited or prohibited Moistner’s view of Walter on his motorcycle. Judy Reece (“Reece”), individually and as Walter’s guardian, filed a lawsuit against various defendants, including Moistner and Tyson Fresh Meats, Inc. and Tyson Foods, Inc. (collectively “Tyson”), which owned a plant on the northwest side of the intersection. Tyson moved for summary judgment as to duty, which the trial court granted.

To prove negligence in Indiana, a plaintiff must show the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, the defendant breached that duty, and the breach proximately caused injuries to the plaintiff. Whether one party owes another party a duty is generally a question of law for the court to decide. If there is no duty owed by the defendant, there can be no breach and therefore no negligence.  Although Moistner certainly owed Reece a duty under the rules of the road applicable to motorists, whether a landowner owes a motorist operating a vehicle on a public roadway presents an interesting question for auto accident attorneys and the courts.

Under well-established Indiana law, a landowner owes a duty to the traveling public to exercise reasonable care in the use of his property so as not to interfere with the safety of public travelers on adjacent roadways. Courts have, for instance, found a duty of care on behalf of a railroad when its employees started a fire that caused smoke to blow over a nearby road obstructing the view of motorists, on behalf of a manufacturing plant that created a congestion of vehicles exiting the plant resulting in a collision, and on behalf of a landowner whose tree fell on a roadway. However, there is generally no liability for harm caused outside land by a natural condition on the land, except for unreasonable risks of harm from trees in urban areas, and even with respect to artificial conditions, there is no liability except for the creation of hazardous conditions that intrude upon a roadway. Thus, there is no duty where the activity is wholly contained on a landowner’s property.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently held in Parkview Hosp. Inc. v. Am. Family Ins. Co. that a hospital was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its hospital lien claim against an automobile insurance company that paid settlement funds directly to an injured party pursuant to an Ohio court order due to the insurance company’s failure to comply with the Indiana Hospital Lien Act. After suffering injuries in a car accident in Ohio, Carl Willis (“Willis”) received treatment for his injuries at Parkview Hospital (“Parkview”) in Allen County, Indiana with a balance due of $95,541.88 for the treatment provided at Parkview. Parkview filed a hospital lien in Allen County, Indiana pursuant to the Hospital Lien Act, Ind. Code § 32-33-4-4, and provided notice of such lien to Willis, Willis’ attorney, and American Family Insurance Company (“American Family”). Willis thereafter filed suit in Ohio against the parties responsible for the accident and American Family.

The Ohio trial court granted a motion to join Parkview as a party plaintiff in the Ohio action, ordering Parkview to appear or otherwise waive its rights. Parkview disputed that the Ohio court had subject matter jurisdiction over its claim and did not appear in the action. After settling the claim, Willis filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, which the Ohio trial court granted, ordering American Family to pay Willis $50,000.00 and ordering Willis to execute a hold harmless agreement with respect to any remaining valid liens. Parkview was not notified of the motion to enforce settlement agreement or order. The Ohio case was thereafter dismissed with prejudice.

Parkview then filed a complaint in Allen County, Indiana against Willis and American Family. Default judgment was entered against Willis. American Family and Parkview filed motions for summary judgment. American Family argued Parkview’s claim was barred based upon the proceedings in Ohio. Parkview argued that American Family violated the Hospital Lien Act. The trial court denied American Family’s motion finding the Ohio court did not have subject matter jurisdiction over Parkview’s hospital lien claim. The trial court also denied Parkview’s motion finding there existed a genuine issue of material fact as to whether American Family was justified in complying with the Ohio trial court’s order requiring it to pay the settlement proceeds to Willis.

We previously wrote about an Indiana Court of Appeals case in which the court reversed a trial court’s judgment on a jury verdict of $40,000 for a plaintiff in a truck accident case and remanded the case for a new trial based upon the trial court’s giving of a failure to mitigate jury instruction. In Humphrey v. Tuck, the plaintiff, Patrick Humphrey, suffered swelling of a pre-existing tumor after being sideswiped by a truck and hitting his head, which caused problems with his vision and symptoms of a hormonal imbalance. Humphrey did not follow his doctor’s orders and advice with regards to medication management and an eyeglass prescription. However, the parties disagreed as to whether the defendants had shown such failure increased his harm, and if so, by how much. In a recent opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court found there was sufficient evidence to support a failure to mitigate instruction, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion and affirming the judgment.

When reviewing the appropriateness of an instruction, reviewing courts consider whether (1) the instruction correctly states the law, (2) the instruction is supported by evidence in the record, and (3) the instruction’s substance is covered by another instruction. The first consideration is a legal question reviewed without giving any deference to the trial court, whereas the second and third considerations are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. To prove a failure to mitigate, a defendant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that (1) the plaintiff did not exercise reasonable care in mitigating post-injury damages, and (2) the failure to exercise reasonable care caused the plaintiff to suffer harm not attributable to the defendant’s negligence. When a plaintiff fails to follow medical advice aggravating his injuries, a defendant must show such failure caused discrete, identifiable harm arising from that failure and not attributable to the defendant. Courts consider whether the defendant has produced enough evidence of causation to warrant an instruction. Expert opinion is often, but not always, required, with courts considering whether the medical issue is within the common experience, observation, or knowledge of a layman.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and remanded for a new trial finding the evidence insufficient to support a failure to mitigate jury instruction. The Indiana Supreme Court, however, disagreed, noting under Indiana law to warrant the giving of an instruction a defending party need only show some evidence—a “scintilla”—of each element of the underlying claim or defense. Here, the trucking crash plaintiff Humphrey conceded the existence of evidence showing he had failed to exercise reasonable care to mitigate his post-injury damages; the only question, therefore, was whether there was some evidence that his conduct caused him to suffer harm beyond that attributable to the defendants. As to the second element of failure to mitigate, the Indiana Supreme Court noted that the issue is not only whether Humphrey’s failure to follow his doctor’s orders increased his harm, but also whether it prolonged the suffering he attributed to the defendants’ negligence in any discrete, measurable way, without the defendants having to put forth a specific numerical value as to the plaintiff’s increased or prolonged harm in showing “quantifiable” harm. Defendants argued that Humphrey’s failure to mitigate his damages either aggravated his injuries or prolonged them.

As injury lawyers representing victims of car crashes, one of the most common causes of car accidents we see in police reports is that the at-fault driver was texting or reached down to retrieve a dropped phone. These common car crash causes should vanish if drivers follow Indiana’s new hands-free phone law. Indiana Passes Hands Free Phone Law

“Do not hold or use your phone while driving in Indiana” is the new law in Indiana as of July 1, 2020. Under the law, a person operating a motor vehicle in Indiana may no longer hold or use their phone while driving unless that person has hands free or voice operated technology or is calling 911 to report a bona fide emergency. The new law, which went into effect July 1, 2020 and which can be found in Indiana Code § 9-21-8-59, provides as follows:

(a) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (c), a person may not hold or use a telecommunications device while operating a moving motor vehicle. (b) A telecommunications device may be used in conjunction with hands free or voice operated technology. (c) A telecommunications device may be used or held to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency. (d) A police officer may not, without the consent of the person: (1) confiscate a telecommunications device for the purpose of determining compliance with this section; (2) confiscate a telecommunications device and retain it as evidence pending trial for a violation of this section; or (3) extract or otherwise download information from a telecommunications device for a violation of this section unless: (A) the police officer has probable cause to believe that the telecommunications device has been used in the commission of a crime; (B) the information is extracted or otherwise downloaded under a valid search warrant; or (C) otherwise authorized by law. (e) The bureau may not assess points under the point system for a violation of this section occurring before July 1, 2021.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a defendant in an Indiana car accident case. In Cook v. Beeman, the Plaintiff, Edward Cook, was driving west on Tenth Street in Jeffersonville, Indiana and collided with a vehicle being driven north on Allison Lane by the Defendant, Mark Beeman. Both Cook and Beeman claimed they had a green light at the intersection of Tenth Street and Allison Lane. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Beeman, finding Cook 51% at fault and Beeman 49% at fault in causing the collision. Under Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act, a personal injury plaintiff may not recover damages if the person’s fault is greater than the fault of all other persons whose fault proximately contributed to the person’s damages.

Cook appealed and on appeal argued that the trial court erred in admitting some of Beeman’s testimony. During the trial, Beeman’s counsel asked Beeman why he did not sue Cook. Beeman replied by stating, among other things, that he did not sue Cook because he had already been compensated for the property damage to his vehicle. Cook argued on appeal that such testimony violated a motion in limine. A motion in limine is a procedural device used to prevent prejudicial, irrelevant, and otherwise objectionable matters that would interfere with a fair and impartial administration of justice from being raised in the presence of a jury before the trial court has had a chance to rule upon the appropriateness or admissibility of those matters. However, a ruling on a motion in limine is not a final ruling and a party must still object to evidence at trial falling within the scope of a motion in limine. Here, Cook did not object when Beeman was asked why he did not sue Cook and Cook did not thereafter move to strike Beeman’s answer. As such, the Court of Appeals held that Cook waived any claim that the trial court erred in admitting the testimony.

Cook also argued on appeal that the trial court erred in not granting a mistrial. On cross examination of Beeman, Cook asked Beeman who compensated Beeman for his vehicle. Beeman requested a sidebar conference with the Court, objecting to the question. Cook argued that Beeman opened the door to this question by Beeman’s testimony about being compensated for his vehicle. Under Indiana Rule of Evidence 411, evidence that a person did or did not have liability insurance is not admissible to prove negligent or wrongful conduct. The transcript provided to the Court of Appeals did not indicate what occurred during the sidebar conference as the recording was inaudible. Cook argued on appeal that the trial court sustained Beeman’s objection and that he moved for a mistrial, which the trial court denied. Beeman argued Cook did not move for a mistrial.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently resolved a dispute as to the availability of underinsured coverage in an Indiana motor vehicle accident case. In Catanzarite v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Indiana, the Plaintiff, Christine Catanzarite, suffered severe injuries when another driver, Timothy Smith, turned his vehicle in front of her vehicle, causing a collision. Catanzarite incurred $269,841.32 in medical expenses at Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana. Smith had a $100,000.00 liability insurance policy. Catanzarite had a $100,000.00 underinsured policy with Safeco.

Smith’s auto insurer offered Catanzarite Smith’s liability insurance limits of $100,000.00. Memorial Hospital asserted a hospital lien for the medical bills incurred by Catanzarite, which it subsequently reduced to $25,000.00. A perfected hospital lien gives a hospital a direct right to insurance proceeds which are paid to the patient by an at-fault party. Catanzarite filed a motion for declaratory judgment against Safeco, upon which she filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking a determination that Smith, as a result of Memorial Hospital’s hospital lien, was an underinsured driver and Catanzarite was entitled to $25,000.00 in underinsured coverage.

Underinsured motorist coverage ensures an insured person receives the recovery he or she would have received if the at-fault driver had carried adequate insurance; it helps protect persons against inadequately insured negligent motorists. Under Indiana law, an underinsured motor vehicle is an “insured motor vehicle where the limits of coverage available for payment to the insured under all bodily injury liability policies covering persons liable to the insured are less than the limits for the insured’s underinsured motorist coverage at the time of the accident…” Ind. Code § 27-7-5-4(b).

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