Southern Indiana Personal Injury Lawyer Blog

Articles Posted in Truck Accidents

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The Indiana Supreme Court recently held in Brewer v. PACCAR, Inc. that a component part manufacturer (PACCAR) may have a duty to offer or install necessary safety features under Indiana’s Product Liability Act (IPLA). Because issues of fact existed as to whether the safety features were offered and necessary to make the final product safe, the Court reversed the trial court’s finding that PACCAR owed no duty, as a matter of law, to install safety features that the injury party alleged were necessary.

The IPLA subjects a manufacturer of “a product or a component part of a product,” I.C. § 34-6-2-77, to liability for physical harm caused by a manufacturer placing “into the stream of commerce any product in a defective condition unreasonably dangerous to any user or consumer,” I.C. § 34-20-2-1. A product is defective under the IPLA if it is defectively designed, if it has a manufacturing flaw, or if it lacks adequate warnings about dangers associated with its use.

Rickey Brewer was a construction foreman killed when a semi driver backed up a semi with an integrated PACCAR glider kit, did not see Rickey, and pinned him against a trailer, killing him.  His widow and his estate asserted an IPLA claim against PACCAR. The claim asserted PACCAR’s glider kit was defectively designed because it lacked certain safety features to reduce the danger inherent in its forty-foot blind spot. (If you drive a vehicle with a rear camera and sensors, you can probably attest to the peace of mind and safety such devices add to our everyday life). Here, because a design-defect claim is based in negligence, Brewer would need to be able to prove at trial that (1) PACCAR owed a duty to Rickey; (2) PACCAR breached that duty; and (3) the breach proximately caused an injury to Rickey. The only element at issue in the case was duty—whether PACCAR lacked a duty, as a matter of law, to install certain safety features.

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The Indiana Court of Appeals recently upheld the grant of summary judgment in favor of the estate of a vehicle driver who suffered a heart attack and became unconscious while driving, which resulted in his vehicle speeding up, going off the roadway, and crashing into a nearby house. The vehicle driver died and his passenger, who brought suit against his estate, suffered severe injuries.

In Indiana, a plaintiff must establish three elements to prove negligence on behalf of a defendant: (1) a duty owed to the plaintiff by the defendant; (2) a breach of that duty by failing to comply with the applicable standard of care; and (3) a compensable injury proximately caused by the breach of that duty. Under Indiana law, individuals must conform their conduct to that of a reasonable person under like circumstances. Summary judgment is appropriate when the defendant negates at least one of the elements of the plaintiff’s claim. While the element of breach is usually a question for the jury, where the relevant facts are undisputed and lead only to a single inference or conclusion, the court may determine as a matter of law whether the defendant breached a duty.

The defendant estate in this case claimed it was entitled to summary judgment on the element of breach because the vehicle driver could not be found to have acted unreasonably in causing the collision when he suffered a heart attack and was rendered unconscious. The plaintiff passenger argued that the defendant driver was negligent for driving in the first place given his medical condition. While the vehicle driver had recently suffered a prior heart attack and undergone treatment related to his heart condition, at the time of the collision, he had been cleared to drive by his medical providers. Based upon this evidence, the Court found that the passenger plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the defendant driver’s sudden physical incapacity was reasonably foreseeable, so as to hold him negligent for driving in the first place.

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A recent memorandum decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals in J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc. v. Guardianship of Zak affirmed an Indiana trial court’s order awarding the guardianship of a passenger injured in a semi-truck collision $4,810,000.00 in prejudgment interest.

Ten months after an Indiana jury found in favor of the passenger and against the driver of the semi tractor-trailer and the trucking company he was working for at the time of the trucking accident, the passenger requested prejudgment interest on the $32,500,000.00 jury award. The driver of the semi tractor-trailer and the trucking company appealed the trial court’s order of pre-judgement interest arguing that the guardianship of the injured passenger had failed to comply with Indiana’s Tort Prejudgment Interest Statute (TPIS), as set forth in Indiana Code section 34-51-4-6, and that the request for prejudgment interest was untimely. The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment.

Prejudgment interest is allowed under Indiana law as an additional element of damages to achieve full compensation for the prevailing party at trial. The truck driver and trucking company argued that the guardianship of the injured passenger did not comply with the TPIS because it did not make an offer of settlement within one year of filing the lawsuit and the settlement offer that was eventually made did not allow the truck driver and trucking company sixty (60) days to pay the amount of the settlement offer. In affirming the trial court on these issues, the Indiana Court of Appeals noted that the statute is not meant to serve as a trap for the wary but is meant to put a party on notice of a claim and encourage settlement. The Indiana Court of Appeals found that the trial court acted within its discretion in determining that the guardianship’s settlement offer satisfied the statute because the guardianship had established good cause for the delay in tendering its settlement offer due to critical documents being withheld by the truck driver and trucking company during discovery, and because the settlement offer included time-limiting language.

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In Holland v. Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Company, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided a dispute between an Indiana lawyer and an automobile insurer concerning the reimbursement of medical payments coverage provided by the automobile insurer to the injured client of the lawyer in a personal injury lawsuit. After the lawyer’s client was injured in a vehicle collision and sustained medical bills as a result of injuries suffered in the collision, the client’s automobile insurer paid $5,000.00 towards the client’s medical bills. The automobile insurer put the attorney on notice of its subrogation claim, which entitled it to partial reimbursement of the amount it paid out of its medical payments coverage.

Under Indiana law, the amount of an automobile insurer’s subrogation claim for medical expenses paid on behalf of an injured party is diminished in the same proportion as a personal injury claimant’s recovery is diminished by comparative fault, or by reason of the uncollectability of the full value of the claim for personal injuries or death resulting from limited liability insurance. Ind. Code § 34-51-2-19. The amount of the automobile insurer’s subrogation claim is also reduced by a pro-rata share of the claimant’s attorney’s fees and litigation expenses. Id.

In this case, the personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party was settled in the client’s favor. The client’s attorney and the automobile insurer were unable to reach an agreement as to the reimbursement amount due the automobile insurer from the personal injury settlement. More than two (2) years after the Indiana attorney and the automobile insurer reached an impasse and communication ceased between them concerning the medical payments subrogation lien, the automobile insurer filed a lawsuit in state court in Indiana against the Indiana attorney. While the trial court initially found in favor of the automobile insurer, the Indiana attorney appealed the decision, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the trial court, finding in favor of the Indiana attorney based upon a two (2) year statute of limitations for breach of fiduciary duty.

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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.

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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.

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You are sitting in a growing line of cars at a traffic light waiting to make a right turn onto the Lloyd Expressway. Up ahead at the exit of a parking lot sits a vehicle with a frowning senior citizen who apparently wants to make it across your lane into the left lane.  You recall how you felt the last time you were stuck in traffic and unable to move and someone waved you out.  You decide to return the favor and stop, leaving room for the vehicle to cross your lane.  You look in your rear-view mirror to make sure no traffic is approaching in the left lane, smile and kindly signal the driver to go.  Out of nowhere comes a speeding truck.  Horns honk, and brakes squeal.  Your heart races.

If the cars collide, could you be found negligent for having given the courtesy wave?  In Key v. Hamilton, the Indiana Court of Appeals explored this legal issue.  Hamilton was seriously injured when his motorcycle struck a vehicle Key had waved through traffic.  The trial court ruled that Key owed Hamilton a duty, determining that a jury should be allowed to decide whether Key had been negligent in extending a courtesy wave.  The jury returned a verdict in Hamilton’s favor, finding Key was 45% at fault, the driver who Hamilton had waved through 50% at fault, and Hamilton 5% at fault.  The jury found Hamilton’s damages to be $2.2 million and reduced this award after applying Indiana’s Comparative Fault Act to $990,000, entering judgment against Hamilton.  Hamilton appealed.

The trial court found Key’s duty to Hamilton was grounded in a principle of law embodied by the Restatement (Second) of Torts  324A (1965).  That legal concept provides that “[o]ne who undertakes, gratuitously or for consideration, to render services to another which he should recognize as necessary for the protection of a third person or his things, is subject to liability to the third person for physical harm resulting from his failure to exercise reasonable care to protect his undertaking, if (a) his failure to exercise reasonable care increases the risk of such harm, or (b) he has undertaken to perform a duty owed by the other to the third person, or (c) the harm is suffered because of reliance of the other or the third person upon the undertaking.”

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At one time or another, most drivers have been passed by or stuck behind a large truck hauling a trailer enclosed by a loose tarp or an open bed of rock, gravel or rip-rap. Oftentimes, the truck has a sign that reads, “NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR BROKEN WINDSHIELDS,” suggesting such vehicles are protected from the harm they may cause on the roadway. Not true.

Commercial truck drivers have a duty to ensure the safety of their cargo and equipment. Federal regulations provide that commercial truck drivers must perform a safety inspection. No shipper can force a driver to accept a load the driver believes is unsafe. Nonetheless, a shipper may face liability if a defect in the load could not be uncovered by the driver through ordinary observation.

Commercial Truck Drivers Careless loading and hauling of cargo and equipment can cause chipped paint, dents and broken windshields. However, sometimes serious and catastrophic injuries and even death can occur when a a vehicle is struck by unsecured cargo or equipment, such as a crane boom, or must leave the road to avoid such dangers. Because many companies and their insurers will seek to shift the blame to the victim for purportedly following too closely or not taking equally dangerous evasive maneuvers, the only recourse in such situations may be to seek a legal remedy.

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Not every car accident can be cut and dry to assess. In fact, many multi-vehicle car accidents can be difficult to sort out and assign any kind of culpability. One car accident in Indiana is currently being investigated as there were six vehicles involved.

The multi-vehicle accident happened around 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening. According to an initial assessment of the accident, a pickup truck was westbound and hit several cars that were at an intersection. Then, the same pickup truck is believed to have hit another vehicle that was southbound at the time, although there is no word for sure as to what exactly unfolded.

Authorities said a van was pushed over a curb and a red pickup truck was in the center of the intersection when the incident was assessed. Two vehicles were also said to be smashed together in front of a service station. The crash in being investigated, and four people were injured in the melee. There was no word as to exact nature or severity of any injuries suffered.

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When a driver runs a red light and smashes into another vehicle, the consequences can be far-reaching and life-altering for those in that driver’s path. This scenario is the cause of the many car accidents in Indiana. One such accident recently resulted in a man suffering critical injuries.

The accident occurred on a Sunday night as a man drove a Hummer through a red light. His vehicle struck another vehicle operated by a 32-year-old man. The victim suffered critical injuries as his vehicle was pushed into a ditch, causing him to be trapped in his vehicle until help arrived at the scene.

The driver of the Hummer left the scene. Witnesses said the Hummer was going roughly 80 mph. Police are currently working to track down the owner of the vehicle. The family of the man who was seriously injured have stated it hopes someone with information comes forward.

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