Fault is an important legal consideration in collisions as well as in other personal injury and property damage cases. To award financial compensation, juries must first determine who is at fault. But there isn’t always a clear-cut answer to this question. Often, more than one party shares responsibility for an accident.
The Indiana Comparative Fault Act allows juries to assess partial damages based on percentages of fault. If you’re involved in a personal injury or property damage suit, it’s important to understand this law and how it affects your case.
The Comparative Fault Act divides the blame
Indiana state law doesn’t see fault as an all-or-nothing proposition. Even if a defendant’s actions caused an accident, the plaintiff may have contributed or failed to react properly. A driver who makes a quick lane change without checking his blind spot is at fault if he hits another car, but if the other driver was distracted, she may share part of the blame.
Similarly, a customer who slips and falls on a grocery store’s wet floor may have a case against the store for leaving soap suds on the ground, but if that customer was racing through the aisles, the jury may say the grocery store isn’t solely responsible.
In comparative fault cases, juries calculate the total damages and decide what percentage of fault each party is responsible for. To calculate financial compensation, they multiply the damages by the percentage of the defendant’s fault.
For example, let’s say Bob hits Sue’s car while changing lanes. If the jury finds that Bob is 90 percent at fault and the total damages are $10,000, Bob will be responsible for $9,000 in damages. Likewise, if the jury finds Bob is 50 percent at fault, Bob will be responsible for $5,000 in damages.
However, there is one major twist to this straightforward math. If the jury finds Sue 51 percent or more at fault, Bob will not be responsible for any damages.
When the Comparative Fault Act matters
The principle of comparative fault applies to most cases involving personal injury or property damage. Simply put, if someone else injures you or something you own, the Comparative Fault Act most likely applies.
However, there are two exceptions to this rule. The Comparative Fault Act doesn’t apply to any claims made under the Indiana Tort Claims Act or the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. So if you make a claim against the state of Indiana, any Indiana government subdivision, or a healthcare provider, the act likely will not apply. In those two circumstances, the common law rule of contributory negligence applies. This means that you will not be entitled to damages if the jury finds you to be even one percent at fault.
The Comparative Fault Act is good news for plaintiffs
Before the Comparative Fault Act, juries decided all cases using the law of contributory negligence. Defendants could avoid paying damages if they could show partial fault on a plaintiff’s behalf.
This approach to fault sometimes led to harsh outcomes for plaintiffs. It meant many people who suffered injuries or property damage couldn’t seek compensation, even if another party bore most of the blame.
The Indiana Comparative Fault Act allows a plaintiff to seek damages even if his actions slightly contributed to an accident. Thanks to this act, Johnson Jensen can help more clients get the financial compensation they need to repair property damage or recover from an injury.