How Does Indiana Define Negligence in an Injury Case?

It's a crucial element to the state's personal injury lawsuits

By Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on May 2, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Daniel S. Chamberlain

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Accidents occur when someone acts carelessly or recklessly. If you are injured in an accident caused by someone else, you may have grounds to bring a personal injury lawsuit to recover any damages you sustained. But the mere fact the accident occurred does not mean you will prevail. You must still prove the defendant was negligent.

“Negligence” means something very specific in the context of Indiana personal injury law. There are four elements of negligence, all of which must be proven in court.

Elements of a Negligence Claim

Here is a brief rundown of each element and what the plaintiff needs to show.

There Was a “Duty of Care”

The first step in proving negligence is establishing the applicable “duty of care.” This refers to the defendant’s legal responsibility to act in a certain way towards other people in the context of the underlying accident or event. For example, “The duty is: protect consumers at your store,” says Daniel S. Chamberlain, a personal injury attorney at Cohen & Malad in Indianapolis.

“The second part would be: How do you do that? How is it that I’m supposed to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of the people at my store? That’s totally on me as the corporation or the business that invites them in.”

The Defendant Breached the Duty of Care

Once the relevant duty of care is established, the next step is to show how the defendant’s actions or lack of action breached that duty. For example, a business that doesn’t address water on the floor or ice in a parking lot according to their plan–or doesn’t address it at all–could be in breach of their duty of care.

“You’ve got a rule,” Chamberlain says. “Whose responsibility is it to follow the rule, and what are they supposed to do? The next thing is, if it wasn’t done, then obviously you’ve got a cause of action.”

The Defendant’s Breach Caused the Plaintiff’s Injury

The mere fact that a breach occurred does not, in and of itself, mean the defendant was negligent. The plaintiff must also prove “causation,” i.e. that the breach caused some injury. Put another way, the plaintiff needs to show that “but for” the defendant’s actions, their injuries would not have occurred.

The Plaintiff Must Prove They Suffered an Injury That Can Be Compensated

The final stage of proving negligence is for the plaintiff to establish what actual injuries they sustained as a result of the defendant’s breach of care. An “injury” can refer to any type of loss that can be compensated with money. This can include medical bills, the costs of repairing a damaged vehicle, and compensation for non-economic losses, such as the plaintiff’s pain and suffering.

There are so many different areas that you have to get involved in… that you will never be able to get… without filing suit and having an attorney work with you.

Daniel S. Chamberlain

Comparative Negligence and Contributory Negligence

In some cases, the defendant may turn around and argue that the plaintiff’s actions actually contributed to the underlying accident or injury. If a judge or jury decides the plaintiff was an at-fault party, that can affect their ability to recover damages.

“There are two theories. One theory is contributory negligence, which means [if you are] 1% or more [responsible], you are barred from any recovery at all, whatsoever. You don’t get a dime,” Chamberlain says. In Indiana, contributory negligence is applied to cases against government entities.

The second theory is comparative fault. “The scheme that’s most often used is, if you’re 50% at fault, you get 50% of your damages,” Chamberlain says. “However, if it’s a modified comparative fault, if you’re 51% at fault, then you get zero.”

Getting an Attorney’s Help is Essential

If you believe your injury was caused by negligence, getting the help of a qualified Indiana personal injury lawyer at a law firm is critical to being able to win your claim. “There are so many different areas that you have to get involved in,” Chamberlain says, “such as filing a complaint for damages, getting all the requests for production out, the interrogatories out, getting the employee manuals, the incident manuals, surveillance tapes, maintenance instructions and other regulations that the corporation uses that you will never be able to get yourself without filing suit and having an attorney work with you.”

For most personal injury cases, plaintiffs can expect an attorney to charge a contingency fee, meaning the attorney will only earn fees if they win your case, and fees are typically a percentage of the money awarded to you. “We’re willing to take on the risk involved to help the community in general,” Chamberlain says.

For more information on personal injury attorneys, personal injury claims, and negligence claims, see our overview on personal injury law.

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