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Justices answer certified question on fault

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After revising a certified question received from the federal court, Indiana Supreme Court justices answered the question in the affirmative.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana sent the following question for the justices to answer: “Whether, in a crashworthiness case alleging enhanced injuries under the Indiana Products Liability Act, the finder of fact shall apportion fault to the person suffering physical harm when that alleged fault relates to the cause of the underlying accident.”

The question comes from a case involving a federal lawsuit filed by Nicholas Green against Ford Motor Co. under the Indiana Product Liability Act. Green claims Ford was negligent in its design of the vehicle’s restraint system. While he was driving, Green left the road, hit a guardrail, rolled the car, and the resulting injuries left him a quadriplegic. He’s seeking to excluded any evidence of his alleged contributory negligence on the grounds that anything he did to make the car leave the road isn’t relevant to whether Ford’s negligent design caused him to suffer injuries he wouldn’t have otherwise suffered.

In Nicholas Green v. Ford Motor Company, No. 94S00-1007-CQ-348, the justices examined the “Crashworthiness Doctrine” explained in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals case, Larsen v. General Motors Corp., 391 F.2d 495, 502 (8th Cir. 1968), as well as caselaw from Indiana on the theory of crashworthiness presented in Larsen. Previous rulings have held that claims for enhanced injuries based on alleged uncrashworthiness have been viewed as separate and distinct from the circumstances relating to the initial collision or event, wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

The justices acknowledged the logical appeal to extend this analysis to view any negligence of a claimant in causing the initial collision as irrelevant in determining liability for the “second collision,” but two things lead to a different conclusion, he wrote.

“First, most of the early crashworthiness decisions arose under common law or statutory product liability law that imposed strict liability for which a plaintiff's contributory negligence was not available as a defense, making it irrelevant in those cases to consider a plaintiff's contributory negligence,” he wrote. “Second, and more important, product liability claims in Indiana are governed by the Indiana Product Liability Act, which, since 1995, has expressly required liability to be determined in accordance with the principles of comparative fault. Ind. Code § 34-20-8-1. We find the statutory language to be significant in resolving the question.”

The justices concluded that in a crashworthiness case alleging enhanced injuries under the Indiana Product Liability Act, it is the function of the fact-finder to consider and evaluate the conduct of all relevant actors who allegedly caused or contributed to cause the harm for which a plaintiff seeks damages. From the evidence, the jury then must determine whether such conduct satisfies the requirement of proximate cause, he wrote. A fact-finder may allocate as comparative fault only such fault that it finds to have been a proximate cause of the claimed injuries.

The justices revised the certified question to be: “Whether, in a crashworthiness case alleging enhanced injuries under the Indiana Products Liability Act, the finder of fact shall apportion fault to the person suffering physical harm when that alleged fault is a proximate cause of the harm for which damages are being sought.”

They unanimously answered this revised question in the affirmative.

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  1. Poor Judge Brown probably thought that by slavishly serving the godz of the age her violations of 18th century concepts like due process and the rule of law would be overlooked. Mayhaps she was merely a Judge ahead of her time?

  2. in a lawyer discipline case Judge Brown, now removed, was presiding over a hearing about a lawyer accused of the supposedly heinous ethical violation of saying the words "Illegal immigrant." (IN re Barker) http://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/order-discipline-2013-55S00-1008-DI-429.pdf .... I wonder if when we compare the egregious violations of due process by Judge Brown, to her chiding of another lawyer for politically incorrectness, if there are any conclusions to be drawn about what kind of person, what kind of judge, what kind of apparatchik, is busy implementing the agenda of political correctness and making off-limits legit advocacy about an adverse party in a suit whose illegal alien status is relevant? I am just asking the question, the reader can make own conclsuion. Oh wait-- did I use the wrong adjective-- let me rephrase that, um undocumented alien?

  3. of course the bigger questions of whether or not the people want to pay for ANY bussing is off limits, due to the Supreme Court protecting the people from DEMOCRACY. Several decades hence from desegregation and bussing plans and we STILL need to be taking all this taxpayer money to combat mostly-imagined "discrimination" in the most obviously failed social program of the postwar period.

  4. You can put your photos anywhere you like... When someone steals it they know it doesn't belong to them. And, a man getting a divorce is automatically not a nice guy...? That's ridiculous. Since when is need of money a conflict of interest? That would mean that no one should have a job unless they are already financially solvent without a job... A photographer is also under no obligation to use a watermark (again, people know when a photo doesn't belong to them) or provide contact information. Hey, he didn't make it easy for me to pay him so I'll just take it! Well heck, might as well walk out of the grocery store with a cart full of food because the lines are too long and you don't find that convenient. "Only in Indiana." Oh, now you're passing judgement on an entire state... What state do you live in? I need to characterize everyone in your state as ignorant and opinionated. And the final bit of ignorance; assuming a photo anyone would want is lucky and then how much does your camera have to cost to make it a good photo, in your obviously relevant opinion?

  5. Seventh Circuit Court Judge Diane Wood has stated in “The Rule of Law in Times of Stress” (2003), “that neither laws nor the procedures used to create or implement them should be secret; and . . . the laws must not be arbitrary.” According to the American Bar Association, Wood’s quote drives home this point: The rule of law also requires that people can expect predictable results from the legal system; this is what Judge Wood implies when she says that “the laws must not be arbitrary.” Predictable results mean that people who act in the same way can expect the law to treat them in the same way. If similar actions do not produce similar legal outcomes, people cannot use the law to guide their actions, and a “rule of law” does not exist.

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