After a slip and fall accident on someone else's property in Indiana, it's probably a good idea to look into your options for getting compensation for your losses. That's especially true when it's fairly clear that the property owner's negligence played a part in the accident.
Whether you decide to file an insurance claim, or take the matter to court via a personal injury lawsuit, a number of Indiana laws and legal rules will almost certainly affect your case. Two of the most important of these are the statute of limitations deadline for filing a slip and fall lawsuit, and "shared fault" rules that can affect your right to recover compensation if you bear some amount of responsibility for the underlying accident. Read on for the details.
As background, a statute of limitations is a law that puts a time limit on your right to have a lawsuit heard in a state's civil court system. Specific time limits vary depending on the kind of case you want to file.
If you try to file your slip and fall lawsuit after the deadline set by the statute of limitations has passed, the person you're trying to sue will bring that fact to the court's attention, and the court will almost certainly grant a motion to dismiss your case. That's why it's critical to understand how this law applies to your situation. (In some rare situations the statute of limitations clock may pause or "toll," giving you more time to get your case started. Talk to an attorney for the details on these exceptions in Indiana).
The statute of limitations that will affect a slip and fall lawsuit in Indiana is the same as the larger one that applies to most personal injury claims. Specifically, Indiana Code section 34-11-2-4 says: "An action for: (1) injury to person or character; [or for] (2) injury to personal property…must be commenced within two (2) years after the cause of action accrues."
So, a plaintiff has two years to get their initial complaint filed in Indiana's court system after getting injured in a fall caused by dangerous property conditions on someone else's land, and the "clock" starts running on the date of the injury.
That same two-year deadline applies if you only incurred property damage as a result of your slip and fall in Indiana -- maybe you were uninjured but you broke an expensive watch when you fell -- and you want to ask a court to order the negligent party to pay for the repair or replacement of your property.
Whatever the factual basis for the claim, the success of your slip and fall case will almost certainly hinge on whether the property owner's negligence was the cause of your accident. A number of factors come into play in making this kind of determination. Learn more about proving fault for a slip and fall.
You're making a slip and fall claim, only to hear the property owner argue that you bear some amount of responsibility for the accident. It's a common tactic in every slip and fall case in every state, and Indiana is no exception. And if the property owner is successful in pinning some of the legal blame on you, any settlement or court award you receive could be significantly lower than it might have been, or you may end up with no compensation at all.
Now for the legalese: Indiana Code section 34-51-2-6 says that in a personal injury case (like one filed after a slip and fall injury) "the claimant is barred from recovery if the claimant's contributory fault is greater than the fault of all persons whose fault proximately contributed to the claimant's damages."
In plain English, that means even if you are found partly at fault for your slip and fall accident, you can still get compensation from the property owner and/or any other party who is also at fault, as long as your own share of the blame is no higher than 50 percent. The practical effect of all of this if that any damages award you receive from the court will be reduced by an amount equal to the percentage of fault that's determined to be yours.
So, let's say the jury finds that you are 10 percent responsible for your slip and fall, and your damages (including medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other losses) total $10,000. That will leave the property owner or other defendant(s) on the hook for $9,000 (your $10,000 total damages minus your 10 percent share of fault for the accident, or $1,000).
What arguments can you expect to hear from the property owner? Here are a few common examples:
Even if your case doesn't make it to trial, Indiana's comparative negligence rule will still be a factor. During settlement negotiations, the property owner's insurance company (and/or their attorney) are concerned with what might happen if your case does wind up in court. So you can expect any settlement offer to reflect the other side's view of the part you played in causing or contributing to the slip and fall. That's why it's so important to make a strong case against the property owner.
(Learn more about comparative negligence in slip and fall cases.)