Indiana Car Accident Laws

Statutory time limits for filing an Indiana car accident lawsuit, the state's rules when more than one person is at fault for a crash, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

After a traffic accident in Indiana, if you've been injured and/or incurred significant vehicle damage, you might want to consider your options for holding the at-fault driver financially responsible for your losses. In this article, we'll discuss a few state laws that could have a big impact on your case, including:

  • the two-year deadline for the filing of most car accident lawsuits in Indiana's civil court system, and
  • Indiana's "modified comparative negligence" rule, which allows for financial recovery only when the claimant's level of responsibility for causing the accident does not exceed that of the other party (or parties) involved.

The Indiana Car Accident Statute of Limitations

A "statute of limitations" is a state law that puts a strictly-enforced time limit on the right to bring a lawsuit. These deadlines vary based on the kind of harm you suffered and/or the kind of case you want to file.

(Note: the statute of limitations does not apply to a car insurance claim. Any insurance company, whether your own or the other driver's, is going to require you to make a claim—or at least give the insurer notice of an incident that could trigger a claim—"promptly" or "within a reasonable time" after the accident. That usually means a matter of days, or a few weeks at most.)

In Indiana, as in most states, the statute of limitations that applies to most car accident lawsuits is the same as the larger one that applies to all personal injury cases where one person's negligence is said to have caused harm to another. Specifically, Indiana Code section 34-11-2-4 gives you two years to ask the state courts for a civil remedy for any personal injury or for any damage to your personal property. In the context of a car accident, that means if anyone was hurt in the—whether a driver, passenger, motorcyclist, bicyclist, electric scooter rider, or pedestrian—or had their vehicle or other personal property damaged, they must get their lawsuit filed against any potential defendant within two years. The clock starts running on the date of the accident.

But if someone died as a result of the car accident, and a family member or the personal representative of the estate wants to file a wrongful death claim, the same two-year deadline applies, but the "clock" starts running on the day of the accident victim's death, which could be later than the date of the accident itself.

So, what happens if the statute of limitations deadline has passed, and you try to file your car accident lawsuit anyway? In that situation, the defendant (that's the person you're trying to sue) will point out the passage of the deadline in a motion to dismiss, and any Indiana court will almost certainly grant the dismissal (unless some rare exception acts to extend the deadline). That's why it's crucial to understand the statute of limitations and how it applies to your situation.

Finally, from a strategic standpoint, it's always a good idea to leave yourself plenty of time to file a lawsuit, even if you think your case will be resolved through a car insurance settlement. Keeping all your options on the table will give you more leverage during settlement talks. So if the statute of limitations filing deadline is close, it may be time to talk with an experienced Indiana car accident attorney.

Comparative Negligence in Indiana Car Accident Cases

"Comparative fault" refers to a situation where more than one party is at least partially at fault for an accident. States follow different approaches in this scenario.

Indiana Code sections 34-51-2-5 and 34-51-2-6 say that, in a personal injury lawsuit, you can recover against any other at-fault party, but your damages (your financial recovery) will be reduced by a percentage that corresponds to your share of liability. And you will not be able to recover anything at all if your share of fault for the accident exceeds 50 percent in comparison with other parties. This makes Indiana a "modified comparative negligence" state.

To see how this rule plays out in real life, we'll take a look at an example. Let's say you're driving a few miles-per-hour over the speed limit when another driver suddenly makes a left turn in front of you. Without enough time to stop, you collide with the other car. The other driver is found to be 80 percent at fault, but since you were speeding, the jury (or adjuster) figures that you were 20 percent at fault for the accident. If you would otherwise be entitled to a $10,000 award or settlement, it would be reduced to $8,000 based on your 20-percent share of fault.

Of course, this rule controls judge or jury awards in civil lawsuits (if you get to that stage). But before you get to that point, a car insurance claims adjuster will negotiate a settlement with an eye on Indiana's comparative fault rules. Keep in mind that because there is not a precise method to apportion fault empirically, the ultimate decision as to fault will depend on your ability to negotiate with an insurance claim adjuster, or to convince a judge or jury.

Indiana Auto Insurance Requirements

Car insurance is certain to play a part in any claim that's made after a car accident. Indiana, like most states, requires vehicle owners to maintain financial responsibility for any potential car accident (usually that means carrying certain minimum amounts of liability coverage). So, understanding the Indiana auto insurance rules is essential to any potential car accident case.

Reporting a Car Accident in Indiana

According to Indiana Code section 9-26-1-1.1, if a car accident results in injury or death of another person, or in damage to an unattended vehicle or other property whose owner can't be located or notified, the driver(s) involved in the crash must, "as soon as possible, immediately give notice of the accident, or ensure that another person gives notice of the accident, by the quickest means of communication" to

  • "the local police department, if the accident occurs within a municipality
  • the office of the county sheriff or the nearest state police post, if the accident occurs outside a municipality," or
  • a 911 operator.

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