Who's liable if you're injured on someone else's property in the Hoosier State?
Premises liability laws determine who's liable if you're injured on someone else's property.
Although all states have premises liability laws, the specific language of these laws—including the factors that determine when a property owner can be held liable for an injury—differ from state to state.
In this article, we'll take a look at the premises liability laws in Indiana.
Premises liability basics
If you're injured on someone else's property, whether it's because you slipped and fell, nearly-drowned in a pool, or were bitten by a dog, the property owner may be liable.
To establish liability against the property owner, you must prove that:
- The property owner had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of the breach.
How do you know if a property owner has a duty to protect you from harm? And if a property owner does have a duty, do they have to protect you from all harm?
The specific obligations of a property owner depend on your classification (i.e., the reason you were on the property):
|Invitee||An individual who is invited or permitted to enter the premises for the benefit of the owner (for example, a customer in a retail store).||An owner owes an invitee the highest degree of care, which includes:
|Licensee||An individual who is on the premises with permission from the owner for their own convenience, curiosity, or entertainment (for example, a hunter on private property).||An owner has a duty to:
|Trespasser||An individual who is on the premises without permission from the owner.||An owner has a duty to:
Let's look at an example to clarify the duties owed by a property owner:
Ruth owns a u-pick apple orchard in Hobart, Indiana. Though Ruth doesn't know it, there's an apple-picking ladder on the orchard with a broken rung.
Billy climbs the ladder to pick an apple. When he steps on the broken rung, he falls to the ground and suffers a catastrophic back injury. Billy sues Ruth for $2 million.
Is Ruth liable? It depends on Billy's classification:
Ruth is liable because she has a duty to locate and fix any dangerous conditions.
Ruth is probably NOT liable because her duty to fix dangerous conditions only extends to the dangerous conditions that she knows about.
Ruth is probably NOT liable because her only duties are to refrain from willfully injuring Billy or increasing the possibility of harm.
Notably, a person can lose their status as an invitee if they exceed the scope of their invitation. For example, if Billy enters the u-pick orchard as a customer but wanders into a clearly-marked "employees only" area, then he's considered a trespasser while he's in that restricted area.
Attractive nuisance doctrine
Indiana has an exception to the general rule that property owners don't have to make dangerous conditions safe for trespassers. Under Indiana's attractive nuisance doctrine, a property owner can be held liable to a trespassing child if:
- A dangerous condition exists on the property,
- The dangerous condition is particularly dangerous to children and the danger is unlikely to be understood by them,
- The condition is especially attractive to children,
- The owner has knowledge of the dangerous condition and the likelihood that children will trespass on the property, and
- The injury is reasonably foreseeable.
Examples of common attractive nuisances include:
- Sharp objects found in junkyards
- Partially-constructed homes
Is a swimming pool considered an attractive nuisance?
In the City of Indianapolis v. Johnson, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a swimming pool does NOT constitute an attractive nuisance.
The court reasoned that the dangers associated with a pool are likely to be understood by children because children are taught about drowning at an early age.
The court similarly held that ponds, lakes, streams, and other bodies of water do not constitute attractive nuisances.
Defenses to premises liability claims
If you file a premises liability lawsuit against a property owner, there are a few defenses the property owner may raise:
- Comparative fault. Indiana adopted the "modified comparative fault rule." Under this rule, a plaintiff's damages are reduced by their percentage of fault. What's more, if the plaintiff is considered more than 50% at fault for the accident, the plaintiff is barred from recovering any damages.Consider the following example:
Jim has permission to ride his 4-wheeler on Elizabeth's property. While riding his 4-wheeler, Jim drives over a partially-hidden ledge and injures himself. Jim sues Elizabeth for $100,000, claiming that the partially-hidden ledge was a dangerous condition and that she should have placed a warning sign at the ledge.
The court determined that Elizabeth was 60% liable for the accident because she failed to place a warning sign in front of the ledge. However, the court also determined that Jim was driving too fast for the conditions of the property and therefore was 40% at fault for the accident.
Under Indiana's modified comparative fault rule, Jim is only allowed to recover $60,000 (60% of his damages).
- Assumption of the risk. Assumption of the risk prevents a plaintiff from suing for damages arising from a risk for which the plaintiff knowingly consented. The consent can be expressed (usually in the form of a written waiver) or implied, but the plaintiff must have had actual knowledge of the risk before consenting.Assumption of the risk is not a "complete defense," meaning that the plaintiff won't be prohibited from recovering any damages. However, the plaintiff's damages will be reduced.
- Statute of limitations. Under Indiana law, a plaintiff has 2 years from the date of the injury to file a premises liability lawsuit. If the plaintiff fails to file a lawsuit within 2 years, the plaintiff will be permanently barred from filing a lawsuit.
Damages available in an Indiana premises liability case
Damages available in an Indiana premises liability case include economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering).
Punitive damages, which are intended to punish the defendant, are only available if the defendant acted with malice, fraud, or gross negligence. Punitive damages are capped at 3 times the amount of economic and non-economic damages awarded, or $50,000, whichever amount is greater.
Frequently asked questions about Indiana premises liability law
Can I sue if I slip on ice?
Property owners have a general duty to remove ice from their premises. However, property owners won't be held liable in every situation. The court will consider the specific circumstances of the slip and fall, including how long the ice was present before the plaintiff fell.
Can I sue if I'm assaulted or robbed on someone's property?
Property owners have a duty to minimize foreseeable danger on their property, including criminal acts. In considering whether or not a property owner is liable for the criminal act of a third party (referred to as "negligence security"), the court will consider:
- Whether the property owner had the ability to control the situation
- Whether the property owner should have foreseen that the criminal act was likely to occur
- Whether the property owner took any steps to prevent the criminal act
What if the dangerous condition was caused by an independent contractor working on someone's property?
Generally speaking, property owners aren't liable for the negligent acts of an independent contractor.
What's more, independent contractors have a duty to use reasonable care to avoid harming others. Accordingly, if the dangerous condition was caused by an independent contractor, your claim will generally be against the independent contractor.
Where can I find a premises liability attorney in Indiana?
For starters, you can find an experienced Indiana personal injury attorney to handle your premises liability case in the Enjuris Lawyer Directory. When meeting with your attorney, be prepared to answer certain questions and provide certain documents.
Need a lawyer?
A personal injury lawyer helps individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents to recover financial compensation. These funds are often needed to pay for medical treatment, make up for lost wages and provide compensation for injuries suffered. Sometimes a case that seems simple at first may become more complicated. In these cases, consider hiring an experienced personal injury lawyer. Read more