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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).

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently issued another decision reversing a trial court for giving a failure-to-mitigate jury instruction in an Indiana car accident case. We had previously written about a similar decision in Humphrey v. Tuck. In this case, Harris v. Jones, the Plaintiff, Marlo Harris, was rear-ended on the interstate by the Defendant, Joe Jones, Jr. Harris filed suit against Jones for compensatory damages for her injuries and punitive damages alleging Jones was intoxicated while driving. She also filed an uninsured/underinsured claim against Allstate.

Harris experienced low back pain following the car crash that continued to worsen. Her treating physician diagnosed her with acute lumbar disk disease with left radiculopathy. He treated her with pain medications and injections and referred her for an MRI to determine the cause of her radicular symptoms. Harris never underwent the MRI test. During the four years prior to trial, Harris continued to experience back pain; however, she did not have any medical treatment.

Prior to trial Jones made a qualified settlement offer to Harris in the amount of $25,000.00. Under Indiana law, qualified settlement offers can be made at any time after a complaint has been filed but not within thirty days of trial. Ind. Code § 34-50-1-2. Qualified settlement offers must resolve all claims and defenses. Ind. Code § 34-50-1-3. They must be in writing, signed by the offeror or the offeror’s attorney with his or her name and address, be designated as a qualified settlement offer, be delivered by registered or certified mail or another method verifying the date of receipt, set forth the complete terms of the proposed settlement, and revoke all prior qualified settlement offers. Ind. Code § 34-50-1-4. If a party does not accept a qualified settlement offer, and a final judgment is less favorable than the terms of the qualified settlement offer, the party that made the qualified settlement offer is entitled to attorney’s fees, costs and expenses, not to exceed $1,000.00. After the jury awarded Harris only $10,000.00, the Court awarded Jones $1,000.00 in fees.

Persons involved in car accidents in Indiana due to no fault of their own have numerous claims for damages that they can pursue against the at-fault parties that caused the collisions. Claimants can pursue claims for wrongful death, physical and permanent injuries, medical costs and other expenses, lost wages, lost time, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, mental anguish, loss of services, support and consortium of a spouse, and property damage. In the recent case of Shield Glob. Partners-G1, LLC v. Forster, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed the availability of one of those items of damage, diminished value of a vehicle as part of a property damage claim.

The case arose out of an automobile collision between Lindsay Forster and Lance Ingersoll in Bloomington, Indiana. Forster rear-ended Ingersoll, and as a result of the collision, Ingersoll’s Chevy Silverado pickup truck was damaged. The truck was repaired for a cost of $6,852.55. Shield Global Partners-G1, LLC (“Shield”), which held an assignment of any claims for any diminished value, sought reimbursement for the diminished value of the truck, despite the repairs that had been satisfactorily performed. Shield presented an in-house appraisal that the truck had a fair market value of $36,550 before the collision, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association, and that after the collision, despite the repairs, its fair market value was $32,529.50, for a diminished value of $4,020.45. Shield also presented a second appraisal from an auto appraiser who estimated that the diminished value of the truck amounted to $7,400.00.

Shield filed suit against Forster for the diminished value of the truck. A bench trial was held. The trial court denied Shield’s claim for the diminished value of the truck. The trial court found that Shield’s diminished value claim amounted to a claim for “stigma of defect” damage, which per the trial court, Indiana law does not per se recognize without permanent damage. The trial court also found that Shield had failed to present sufficient evidence to support its claim of diminished value. The trial court, therefore, found the repair costs to be an adequate measure of damages.

“[A]n insured is an insured is an insured is an insured for purposes of an insurer’s duty of good faith and fair dealing,” the Indiana Court of Appeals wrote in its recent decision in Schmidt v. Allstate Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co. In this case, Monika Schmidt was injured in a car accident. She was riding as a passenger in a vehicle being driven by her friend, Deborah Fisher. The driver of the other vehicle was Robert Bromley. Bromley had a Progressive insurance policy with $50,000 per person liability coverage. Fisher had an Allstate insurance policy with $100,000 per person liability coverage and $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. Schmidt was an “insured” under the provisions of Fisher’s Allstate policy. Schmidt sued Bromley and Fisher for her injuries. After Allstate refused to tender Fisher’s policy limits for underinsured coverage, Schmidt amended her lawsuit and added an underinsured claim and bad faith claim against Allstate. Ultimately, Schmidt and Allstate settled the underinsured claim and Fisher and Bromley were dismissed from the case.

Allstate filed for summary judgment on Schmidt’s bad faith claim. Under Indiana law, while an injured third party cannot sue an at-fault party’s insurance company for handling the claim in bad faith, there is an implied duty of good faith in all insurance contracts that an insurer will act in good faith with its insured, and insureds can sue their insurers in tort when their insurers act in bad faith in handling their claims. The duty of good faith and fair dealing owed by insurers includes, among other things, the obligation to refrain from making an unfounded refusal to pay policy proceeds, causing an unfounded delay in making payment, deceiving the insured, and exercising an unfair advantage to pressure an insured into a settlement. Here, Allstate argued that an insurer does not owe a duty of good faith and fair dealing to an insured who is not the policyholder.

On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals reviewed prior court decisions relied upon by the trial court in granting summary judgment in favor of Allstate, including Cain v. Griffin, which the Court distinguished on the basis that it involved a third-party beneficiary claim for medical payments coverage as opposed to a claim by an additional insured. The Court also reviewed the duty analysis under Webb v. Jarvis, which provides that courts should balance the following three factors in determining the existence of duty: (1) the relationship between the parties, (2) the reasonable foreseeability of harm to the person injured, and (3) public policy concerns.

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently reversed a trial court’s dismissal of an Indiana automobile accident case in which the injured motorist was alleged not to have complied with the notice provisions of Indiana’s Claims Against Public Schools Act (“CAPSA”). In Smith v. Franklin Twp. Cmty. Sch. Corp., Benjamin Smith (“Smith”) was injured when his vehicle collided with a school bus owned and operated by the Franklin Township School Corporation (“the School”). A few months after the accident, Smith provided notice of his tort claim to the School in accordance with the Indiana Tort Claims Act (“ITCA”). A year and a half after the accident, Indiana’s legislature enacted CAPSA which provides notice requirements in all civil actions or administrative proceedings against public schools. After Smith filed a lawsuit against the School, and after the applicable statute of limitations had run, the trial court granted the School’s motion to dismiss Smith’s complaint without prejudice on the basis that he had failed to comply with CAPSA.

The ITCA governs tort claims against governmental entities or public employees. Under the ITCA, a claim against the state of Indiana is barred unless notice of the claim is filed with the attorney general or the state agency involved within two hundred seventy (270) days after the loss occurs. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-6. Claims against political subdivisions, for example cities or counties, must be filed with the governing body of the political subdivision and the Indiana political subdivision risk management commission within one hundred eighty (180) days after the loss. Ind. Code § 34-13-3-8. To comply with the notice provision of the ITCA, a claimant must describe “in a short and plain statement the facts on which the claim is based,” including the circumstances which brought about the loss, the extent of the loss, the time and place the loss occurred, the names of all persons involved if known, the amount of the damages sought, and the residence of the person making the claim at the time of the loss and at the time of filing the notice.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3-10.

CAPSA was enacted on July 1, 2018 and provides that claimants may not initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding against a public school “unless the individual or entity submits a written notice to the public school and the governing body… that notifies the public school and the governing body… of the alleged violation of law and indicates a proposed remedy.” Ind. Code § 34-13-3.5-4. The proposed remedy must provide “a specific request for relief” and “[a]llow the public school to offer [the claimant] the relief requested,” to which the public school must respond within fifteen (15) days after the notice is submitted, before the claimant can initiate a civil action or administrative proceeding. Ind. Code §§ 34-13-3.5-5, 34-13-3.5-6. If a claimant does not provide the required notice under CAPSA, the action “shall [be] dismiss[ed]… without prejudice.”

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