In this article, we'll look at key Indiana laws that affect car accident cases, including how long you have to file a lawsuit and how your compensation might be affected if you share some of the blame for the crash. (If you're looking for more detailed information on car accident settlements and how to value a claim, see Car Accident Settlements.)
In Indiana, the time limit to file a personal injury lawsuit is two years after the date of the underlying accident or injury. (IC 34-11-2-4).
This two-year deadline applies to lawsuits stemming from car accidents -- including suits based on personal harm and those based on damage to personal property (such as your car or any other property damaged in the accident). But note that in the rare case that you want to sue only for damage to real property caused by a car accident -- let’s say you’re a homeowner whose land or house was damaged after a car ran onto your property, you likely have up to six years to file a lawsuit for that kind of damage.
Two years may sound like plenty of time, but it can pass by quickly when you're trying to recover from injuries, determine what happened in the crash, and decide what legal steps to take. In order to protect your rights and keep your options open, it's wise to file a claim with your insurance company as soon as possible after an accident occurs. The two-year limit does not affect how long you have to file an insurance claim, but the more time you give your insurer to investigate the crash and negotiate a settlement, the more time you'll have to determine whether you need to file a lawsuit and gather the information necessary to do it.
One more thing to consider: If your accident involves a government entity -- you were rear-ended by a city bus, for instance, or you were injured while on government property -- the rules for when and how you may file a lawsuit are different, and the time limits for filing a claim will likely be much shorter than two years. Contact the government agency that you think is to blame for your accident, and ask for information on the injury claim filing process.
If you're unable to settle an injury or property damage claim with the others involved in the accident, you may need to go to court. At trial, both you and the other parties present your case to a judge or jury, which hands down a verdict. The dollar amount involved in the verdict is known as "damages." The amount of the damages might be higher than the amount you actually receive, because Indiana is a "comparative fault" state.
Comparative fault works like this: Suppose that you were injured in a crash, and the jury decides your medical bills, pain and suffering, and other losses are worth $10,000. However, the jury thinks you were 20 percent responsible for the crash. Your 20 percent responsibility, or $2,000, is subtracted from the total, leaving you with a recovery of $8,000. If you were found 30 percent responsible, you'd get a total of $7,000 ($10,000 minus 30 percent, or $3,000), and so on.
Pretty straightforward, right? Unfortunately, there's one catch. Indiana is a "modified comparative fault" state. This means that, if you are 50 percent or more responsible for the crash, you don't get a reduced damages award -- you get no damages at all. So in the example above, if the jury found you were 49 percent responsible for the accident, you would get $5,100. But if the jury found you were 50 percent responsible for the accident, you would get nothing.
Because Indiana's comparative fault rules affect how much you might receive if you win a car accident lawsuit, it's important to discuss your case with an attorney before deciding whether or not to file.
Your auto insurance plays a role in everything from who pays your medical bills after a crash to how you approach settlement negotiations. For more information on how Indiana auto insurance requirements affect car accident claims, check out our companion article Car Insurance Laws and Regulations in Indiana.