If you drive children to school, you should know about Indiana’s Guest Statute and how it may affect your family
I would like to explain how the Guest Statute law leaves you and your family unprotected from personal injury damages—not to panic you—but to inform you, your family and your friends. My hope is that you’ll take the information to heart, make thoughtful driving decisions, and then pass the information on. The erroneous assumption that you, your children and other family members are fully covered for personal injuries by your auto insurance policy gives you a false sense of peace. When you purchased your automobile policy, I doubt very much that your agent informed you of Indiana’s Guest law. Read the statute at Indiana Code 34-30-11 and you’ll get the impression that the legislators are doing you a great favor by granting you—as owner/operator of your vehicle—immunity from injuries sustained by family members. As a matter of fact, the statute favors the far more powerful insurance industry.
What is the Guest Statute?
In essence, the Guest Statute states that a driving error on your part and the resulting damages, personal injuries and possible loss of life will not be covered by your automobile insurance policy if the injured passenger(s) is a family member, riding as a ‘guest’ —specifically a spouse, child, step-child, a sibling or a parent unless the owner, operator or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle is willfully or wantonly reckless in their driving conduct.
If you make an error in judgment
For example, you’re driving your son to school. The bell is about to ring, another late slip and your son serves a Saturday detention. Under pressure to get him to school on time, you’re resolved to make the left turn arrow—this time. Poor timing and a lapse of judgment causes a tragic accident by an oncoming car wherein both you and your son suffer catastrophic personal injuries. Your health insurance company may pick up the medicals. But if you don’t have health insurance… well, unfortunately hospitals are not charitable institutions. If you were solely responsible for the accident, the injuries suffered by the other driver, of course, would be covered by your own automobile insurance, perhaps to the policy limits. But your son’s injuries, possible future medicals, wage and loss damages, pain and suffering will not be honored under the same automobile liability policy that will protect the stranger. Good drivers occasionally make errors in judgment. The scenario described above could happen to any one of us at any time. Who do you think stands to benefit from the Indiana Guest Statute?
The insurance companies argue that the opportunity for you and your ‘guest’ passenger to join in collusion against the insurance company is too great a risk. But the possibility of collusion and false claims should not preclude the substantive right of individual personal injury litigants to have a voice in a court of law, a right granted under the Seventh Amendment to the Constitution. Did the boy used in our example make that driving decision? Was he given a choice between a Saturday detention and the unintended consequence? The insurance companies have been heard—loud and clear. This law is tipped in their favor. Are your state representatives really looking after your family’s best interests?
Experienced personal injury attorneys
The law firm of Ward & Ward has over eighty years of legal experience with personal injury and wrongful death claims. Our firm receives no legal fees or expenses unless we collect damages on your behalf. Call Charlie Ward today for a free evaluation of your claim.