The Indiana Guest Statute prohibits family members and hitchhikers from receiving compensation for injuries
Indiana’s ‘Guest’ statute, Indiana Code 34-30-11 makes it clear that unless the owner, operator or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle is willfully or wantonly reckless in their driving conduct, a passenger family member may not hold their host-driver spouse, sibling, parent, step parent or child responsible for bodily injuries or death resulting from the driver’s negligence.
In addition, a hitchhiker may not hold the host-driver responsible for loss or damage arising from injuries or death resulting from the operation of the motor vehicle unless the injuries or death are caused by the wanton or willfull misconduct of the operator, owner or person responsible for the operation of the motor vehicle. Immunity does not apply when passengers make payment for transportation.
How does the Court define willful or wanton behavior?
Willful or wanton behavior is defined by the Indiana Supreme Court as either “1) an intentional act done with reckless disregard of the natural and probable consequence of injury to a known person under the circumstances known to the actor at the time; or 2)an omission or failure to act when the actor has actual knowledge of the natural and probable consequence of injury and his opportunity to avoid the risk”[McKeown v. Calusa, 172 Ind. App. 1, 5, 359 N.E.2nd 550, 553-54 (1977)].
The Guest Statute IC 34-30-11-1
Indiana Title 34 – Civil Code and Procedure reads as follows:
Sec. 1. The owner, operator, or person responsible for the operation of a motor vehicle is not liable for loss or damage arising from injuries to or the death of:
- the person’s parent;
- the person’s spouse;
- the person’s child or stepchild;
- the person’s brother;
- the person’s sister; or
- a hitchhiker;
resulting from the operation of the motor vehicle while the parent, spouse, child or stepchild, brother, sister, or hitchhiker was being transported without payment in or upon the motor vehicle unless the injuries or death are caused by the wanton or willful misconduct of the operator, owner, or person responsible for the operation of the motor vehicle. As added by P.L.1-1998, SEC.26.
Purposes of the Guest Statute
The opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals, KLLM, Inc. v. Legg, states:
“…we recognized that the purposes of Indiana’s Guest Statute are threefold: first, it reduces the threat of “collusive” lawsuits, whose likelihood would be greater between family members than mere acquaintances; second, it reduces the threat of “Robin Hood” proclivities of juries where juries would be more eager to take from the “rich” liability insurance companies and give to the “poor” victims, especially where the victims were members of the same family; and three, it fosters family harmony by not allowing family members to sue and recover for injuries caused by another family member’s negligence. Davidson, 558 N.E.2d at 851. With respect to hitchhikers, we recognized a fourth purpose for Indiana’s Guest Statute: it deters the illegal act of hitchhiking by not allowing hitchhikers to recover for their injuries caused by a driver’s negligence. Id.
Thus, under the Guest Statute, KLLM would not be liable for any loss or damage arising from the death of Hanna if Hanna was a hitchhiker who was being transported without payment in or upon the motor vehicle at the time of his death.”
What’s the risk when you ride with a relative at the wheel?
In a real world scenario, let’s take a look at how the statute might affect you.
Your car breaks down. You have an important meeting and ask your brother to drive you. To get you there on time, he ekes through a red light and you’re catastrophically injured by an oncoming car. Your brother is at fault for the accident and the personal injuries you’ve incurred because, in his haste, he ran the red light. Your brother has an auto insurance policy and has paid his premiums in good faith. But under Indiana’s Guest Statute, you cannot file a claim against his insurance company for the injuries or disabilities you’ve suffered. Your health insurance policy may pick-up the majority of medical bills incurred but a high deductible could significantly set you back, possibly even bankrupt your future. A permanent disability resulting from your brother’s momentarily poor judgment could leave you unable to adequately provide for yourself or your family in the future.
Common law requires the host-driver to exercise ordinary care for the safety of his non-paying as well as paying passengers. Yet, Indiana insurance companies have asserted that personal injuries received by a relative of an insured driver invite collusion and false claims. The possibility of collusion should not preclude the substantive right of individual litigants to their day in court. To assert that untruths may be told undermines the judicial system our society lives by. It is not unreasonable to assume that accidents requiring snap decisions result in personal injuries or death to loved ones. How often do you drive a family member to an event?
Trial lawyers with experience
Ward & Ward Personal Injury Lawyers has over eighty five years of legal experience with personal injury and wrongful death claims and continues to seek justice for clients that have been harmed by the negligence of others. Our firm receives no legal fees or expenses unless we collect damages on your behalf. Call an experienced personal injury lawyer in Indianapolis, IN at Ward & Ward today at 317-639-9501 and ask for “Charlie” for a free evaluation of your claim.
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