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Articles Posted in Pedestrian Accidents

As cold weather with the potential for snow and ice accumulations in store parking lots and on sidewalks approaches, the Indiana Court of Appeals’ recent decision in Pioneer Retail, LLC v. Jones is a reminder to businesses that despite not being an owner of the property, businesses can still be held liable for injuries to their invitees. In this case, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a significant jury verdict for a woman who suffered severe injuries in a fall on ice on a sidewalk outside a Wiseway Food grocery store in Crown Point, Indiana. Plaintiff Jane Jones (“Jones”) filed suit against Pioneer Retail, LLC (“Pioneer”), which owned and operated the Wiseway Food grocery store, the owner of the property where the Wiseway Food grocery store was located, a management company for the property, and a snow and ice removal contractor. Prior to trial, Pioneer filed a motion for summary judgment arguing it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because it did not owe any duty of care to Jones. After conducting a hearing on the matter, the trial court denied Pioneer’s motion for summary judgment and the Court of Appeals denied its interlocutory appeal. The case proceeded to a jury trial and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Jones, with 25% fault apportioned to Pioneer and 75% fault apportioned to the other defendants.

Pioneer appealed and argued on appeal that the trial court erred by denying its motion for summary judgment. Pioneer argued it neither owned nor controlled the sidewalk where Jones fell. Pioneer argued the property owner was the exclusive owner of the sidewalk with ultimate responsibility for keeping it clear of snow and ice. Pioneer pointed to the fact that the property owner had contracted with a snow and ice removal contractor to clear snow and ice from the sidewalk.

Under Indiana law, to recover damages in a slip and fall negligence case, a plaintiff must show 1) the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, 2) the defendant breached that duty, and 3) the plaintiff’s injury was proximately caused by the defendant’s breach of duty. Landowners and possessors of land owe persons they invite onto their premises a duty to exercise reasonable care for their protection while they are on the premises. An inviter is subject to liability for physical harm caused to its invitees by a condition on land if it (a) knows or by the exercise of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitees; (b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and (c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against the danger.

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.

Last week we looked at Indiana’s anti-texting statute, the unlikelihood of criminal enforcement, and asked whether punitive damages could provide an additional deterrent.  We noted the first obstacle to punitive damages is Indiana’s incentive-reducing statute that takes 75% of any uninsured, punitive judgment and requires this to be paid to the State of Indiana.

The second obstacle to punitive damages is that federal law prohibits “grossly excessive” punishment of wrongdoers as unconstitutional for violating an individual’s substantive due process rights.  Recognizing that there are many different degrees of wrongful conduct, the U.S. Supreme Court placed no arbitrary limit on punitive damages in the case of BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, but reversed an award of 1000x compensatory damages.  Later, in State Farm v. Campbell, the Court noted that “few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process.”  Luckily for State Farm, this meant the reversal of an award of $145 million in punitive damages where compensatory damages had been $1 million.

Indiana law provides wrongdoers in Indiana with even more protection than that provided by the U.S. Supreme Court.   Indiana places an arbitrary cap on any punitive damages award of the greater of $50,000 or three times the compensatory damages awarded.  Thus, even though Indiana victims of wrongful conduct would be helping victims of violent crime and sexual assault by maintaining a claim for punitive damages, Indiana believes three is the magic number when compensatory damages exceed $50,000.

In 2011, Indiana joined the legions of States that made texting while driving illegal.  Indiana Code 9-21-8-59 bans drivers from using a telecommunications device to type a text message or an email, transmit a text message or an email, or read a text message or an email.  Excepted from the law is using the device in conjunction with hands-free or voice-operated technology, or to call 911 to report a bona fide emergency.

However, absent exceptional circumstances, the law also restricts police from confiscating cell phones and determining if the driver had been using it.  Police cannot use the law to confiscate a phone and keep it as evidence or to extract or download information from the phone.

Although criminal enforcement of anti-texting laws is rare, when a car crash occurs as a result of texting, there may be civil remedies available to deter such conduct.  Punitive damages developed under the law as a means of deterring particularly bad conduct.

Winter Premises Liability in IndianaThough southwestern Indiana has dodged snow so far, temperatures are falling and icy conditions increasing. Wintry conditions inevitably lead to slips and falls, some of which will lead to serious head, neck and back injuries, broken bones, and muscle and ligament tears, strains and sprains.For many who slip and fall, their first emotion is embarrassment and their first instinct is to blame themselves. Also, many premises owners will be quick to claim they cannot be at fault for folks who venture out into wintry conditions and happen to slip and fall. Accordingly, for many guests and premises owners alike there is a perception that a premises owner will not be liable when a guest does slip and fall in wintry conditions. Reaching such a conclusion without consideration of Indiana law and surrounding circumstances could be costly.

Indiana law on the hazards presented by the natural accumulation of snow and ice is clear:

a landlord does have a duty of reasonable care that the common ways and areas, or areas over which he has reserved control, are reasonably fit and that hazards created through a natural accumulation of ice and snow are not beyond the purview of that duty.

When people think about personal injury cases, many automatically think about car accident injuries and ensuring car insurance companies award fair compensation to injured parties. Many people are unaware of other scenarios in which injuries are sustained by innocent victims due to the negligence of others. While the majority of personal injury claims do indeed involve motor vehicle accidents, there are many other incidents that can warrant personal injury suits in Indiana.

Some common scenarios that can be resolved by civil suits include slip-and-fall cases and negligent security cases. These kinds of accidents can result in devastating injuries, particularly to individuals who already have health issues. In addition, medical negligence and medical malpractice are also commonly cited in personal injury lawsuits.

Some personal injury suits may involve companies or entities who acted negligently. This can include incidents of product liability, such as when a company manufactures a dangerous product that results in injuries to consumers. Construction site accidents resulting from third-party negligence can also warrant personal injury suits when injured workers or bystanders sustain serious injuries.

Fire department personnel were shocked and dismayed to respond to a recent car accident because the victim was one of their own. An intern with the Indiana fire department was the victim, and he was helping with a tow truck alongside the roadway when the accident occurred. The 20-year-old died of his injuries, which may possibly open the door to a wrongful death case if some percentage of liability can be placed upon the driver who hit the young man.

The young man was outside of a house on a Thursday night where he was trying to help his brother. They were getting a pickup truck off of a tow truck and were on the edge of the driveway. A car came along and hit the man. His brother, who was volunteer firefighter, attempted to save the man, but those attempts proved to be futile.

The man who hit the fire department intern was transported to a hospital for injuries he received in the crash. Investigators have said there is no reason at this point to believe impairment was a cause of the accident. A fire chief speaking about the accident pointed to the narrow roads and high speeds when discussing how this unfortunate turn of events affected one of their own.

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