After a negligent driver injures someone else in a car accident, Indiana law provides that the injured can hold the negligent driver liable for their damages. This is the legal foundation of many personal injury claims based on car accidents. However, negligence and liability are not always straightforward. In some cases, a court can find that more than one driver acted negligently. Does this mean no one can recover compensation?
Not necessarily. Indiana law addresses these more complex cases with a legal theory known as contributory negligence.
To illustrate how contributory negligence works, first imagine a straightforward car accident case: Driver Aaron fails to hit the brakes in time and crashes into the back of Beatrice's car. As a result, Beatrice is injured, has medical expenses and loses income during the time she is unable to return to work, among other damages. A court finds that Aaron caused the accident through negligence, and therefore is liable for Beatrice's damages.
Next, imagine a somewhat more complicated accident: Aaron is driving over the speed limit in the left lane; Beatrice, driving in the right lane, fails to put on her turn signal before changing into the left lane; Aaron, who is looking at his smartphone instead of at the road ahead, fails to brake in time to avoid Beatrice's car, and they crash. Beatrice suffers serious injuries. Can Beatrice hold Aaron liable, even though she was partly at fault?
Indiana courts would tackle this situation by assessing the share of fault Aaron and Beatrice hold for the accident, assigning each a percentage of the fault. So long as Beatrice's share is not more than Aaron's, she can hold Aaron liable for her damages. However, the court reduces her award by the same percentage she holds for fault. In other words, if the court determines Beatrice was 25% at fault, she can hold Aaron liable, but her recoverable damages are reduced by 25%. If she suffered $100,000 in damages, she will be awarded only $75,000.
The damages that stem from a car accident can be enormous, and the injured need all the help they can get. An attorney can help the injured and their families to understand how the law applies to their own case.