Understanding Indiana’s Premises Liability Law
After reading this article, you will be able to answer these questions:
- What are common terms used in Indiana’s Premises Liability Law?
- In which scenarios could a property owner be held liable for damages?
- How does this law work for you if you are injured?
Basic terms used in Indiana’s Premises Liability Law include:
- Invitee: Someone who has been invited or permitted onto the property for the benefit of the owner (for example, a shopper in a supermarket)
Property owners have the duty to locate and fix (or warn against) dangerous conditions for invitees.
- Licensee: Someone who is on the property for their own reasons but who has permission to be there (for example, a hiker, photographer, or hunter)
Property owners have the responsibility to refrain from willfully injuring a licensee, from increasing the possibility of harm, and the duty to warn of any hidden dangers known to the owner.
- Trespasser: Someone who is on the property without permission
Property owners have the duty to refrain from willfully injuring a trespasser and to refrain from increasing the possibility of harm to the trespasser.
In Indiana, the Premises Liability Law means that property owners are responsible for injuries, damages, or deaths that occur to those who are legally on their property if the accident or incident occurred because of unsafe property conditions. In addition, the property owner must have known about the risk or danger and not have taken steps to fix it (or to block it off) in order to prove negligence.
Property owners must rectify dangerous conditions that they either knew about or should have known about. “Dangerous conditions” may seem like subjective criteria, so here are some examples:
- Ice and snow
- Inadequate lighting
- Lack of (or faulty) guardrails
- Lack of security in a high crime area
- Unrestrained animals
- Hazardous materials
- Fallen trees or limbs
- Clutter and obstacles
- Broken or poorly maintained equipment
Obviously, it is impossible for property owners to fix an issue within seconds, so the law allows them to put warning signs up or place barriers or cones around the problem while they make arrangements to fix the problem. An example of this would be when a customer drops a jar of olives in the supermarket. If the spill is left unattended, the property owner would be liable, but one could hardly expect the owner to have precognition and to anticipate the spill before it occurs.
Another term in the explanation above that may be confusing is the word “legally.” What if someone trespasses and is not on the property legally or by invitation? In that case, the property owner may still bear some responsibility, but the trespasser also is held responsible.
Either the Court or a jury will attempt to decide to which degree each entity is responsible. Indiana Code Section 34-51-2-6 says that if the claimant (the person bringing the personal injury lawsuit) is more than 50% responsible, he or she is not entitled to compensation. The degree of comparative negligence determines the percentage of compensation. For example, if you cut across someone’s property and are attacked by their dog, you may be held 40% responsible because you trespassed. If the owner knew that the dog was dangerous, the owner might be held 60% responsible. In this case (purely hypothetical), the property owner would then pay 60% of the damages. In short, the property owner is responsible for refraining from willfully injuring a trespasser and for refraining from increasing the possibility of harm to a trespasser.
Here’s another scenario that can further muddy the waters: what if the person who trespassed is a child? Children are not expected to fully comprehend dangers. There is a statute for that too: IN Code § 34-31-11-3 (the “attractive nuisance doctrine”). In this case, the property owner is responsible if the following conditions apply:
- The structure or condition complained of is maintained or permitted on the property by the possessor.
- The structure or condition is particularly dangerous to children.
- The danger is latent, uncommon to nature, and unlikely to be comprehended by children.
- The structure or condition is particularly attractive to children and provides a special enticement for children to play or sport on the structure or condition. (For example, a swimming pool, trampoline, or climbing frame)
- The possessor has actual or constructive knowledge of both the structure or condition and the likelihood that children will trespass and be injured.
- The injury is a natural, probable, and foreseeable result of the wrong.
As you have probably concluded by now, the Indiana Premises Liability Law is complicated. If you have been injured, you need to seek medical care immediately and engage an experienced personal injury attorney.
The personal injury lawyers of Poynter & Bucheri Accident Recovery will assist you in dealing with the consequences of an accidental injury by taking forceful and targeted legal action. As we strive to settle your claim as quickly and efficiently as possible, we always keep Indiana courtroom decorum in mind as we diligently work to build a strong case for negligence and liability.
Here is an example of a trip and fall case falling under Indiana’s Premises Liability law:
Trip and Fall
Our client was an elderly woman customer at a big box clothing store, where she tripped and fell over the threshold of the entrance. The client suffered a fractured hip and required multiple surgeries. Poynter & Bucheri named both the big box store and landlord as defendants. We hired an engineer to conduct an inspection, and he found that the threshold was not in compliance with code. After sharing the report, settlement was reached with both defendants. For further details, please contact our office.
One more important fact to keep in mind: The Statute of Limitations for Indiana lawsuits is two years. If you do not file your lawsuit within that time, you will be out of luck, so contact Poynter & Bucheri as soon as possible.
Contact Us for a Free Case Review: 1-800-265-9881