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Indiana Guest Statute Provides Limited Protection from Liability

Everyone at some point ends up driving a close family member around town, whether it is simply to the grocery store or on a long family road trip. No one ever anticipates that something will go wrong. But what if it does? Indiana has a guest statute that provides protection to owners and operators of motor vehicles from liability to certain family members for injuries which occur while being driven. Under the guest statute, a vehicle owner or operator’s parents, spouses, children, stepchildren, and siblings as well as hitchhikers are prevented from recovering damages from the owner or operator for injuries sustained while being transported without payment in or upon the motor vehicle. The Indiana Supreme Court has recently reviewed the Indiana Guest Statute in the recent case of Clark, Jr. v. Clark, Sr., 971 N.E.2d 58 (Ind. 2012). In that case, Clark Jr. was a passenger in car driven by his father, Clark Sr. Upon reaching their destination, Clark Jr. exited the car and walked several feet in front of the car to help guide his father into the parking space. Clark Jr. raised his hand to signal his father to stop, but Clark Sr. accidentally hit the accelerator rather than the brake causing Clark Jr. to become pinned between his father’s car and the vehicle directly in front of it. Clark Jr. suffered severe leg injuries as a result of the accident and sued Clark Sr. for damages. Clark Sr. asserted that the Indiana Guest Statute applied to prevent Clark Jr. from recovering any damages. The Supreme Court, however, held that based on the unambiguous language of the guest statute, a designated family member or hitchhiker must be “in or upon” the vehicle at the time the injury is sustained before the statute will apply to bar any recovery. The fact that Clark Jr. was outside of the vehicle when he was injured prevented application of the guest statute. Consequently the Court determined that Clark Jr. was allowed to sue his father for damages. As this case illustrates, a car wreck is not the only way a person can be injured by a motor vehicle. Indiana recognizes that injuries sustained from cars can happen to any one and at any time and therefore provides some protection to owners and operators from lawsuits from immediate family members who happen to be in the car at the time of the accident. However, this protection is limited in scope and application. To determine if you or a loved one were injured as a result of a motor vehicle for which damages may be recovered, please call 877-877-LAW2 (5292) or 219-924-2427 for a free consultation with one of our top personal injury attorneys.

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