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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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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