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What Is Negligence Per Se in Car Accident Cases in Indiana?

April 28, 2020
Two damaged cars from an accident in the highway.

When you have been injured in a car accident in Indiana, you may be entitled to recover compensation if you can establish that another driver caused the accident. Typically, a claimant in a car accident case needs to prove the negligence of the at-fault driver. However, a claimant may be able to succeed on his or her claim by establishing that the at-fault driver was negligent per se.

In Indiana, a claim of negligence per se can be used in car accident cases when the at-fault driver has violated a statute or ordinance that would result in imposition of a criminal penalty or fine. If the driver merely violated a regulation that would only result in imposition of a civil penalty, it can only be used as evidence of traditional negligence. A defendant in a car accident case may also assert the negligence per se of the plaintiff as part of his or her legal defense.

If you have questions about whether you may be entitled to make a claim of negligence per se, contact the Fort Wayne car accident attorneys of Truitt Law Offices today to schedule a free consultation.

What Is Negligence Per Se?

In most personal injury cases, an injured plaintiff needs to prove the negligence of the defendant. Proving negligence requires showing that a defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care and breached this duty, causing the plaintiff injury and damages.

If a plaintiff asserts a claim of negligence per se, he or she seeks to avoid having to prove each element of negligence by asserting that the facts of the case themselves establish negligence.

A claim of negligence per se claims that another person acted negligently by violating a criminal law on the books to protect people from the very harm suffered by the plaintiff. Violation of a non-criminal or civil regulation can only be used as evidence that negligence may have occurred.

For example, a plaintiff in a car accident case may argue negligence per se by claiming that the defendant was speeding at the time of the accident and caused a rear-end accident since speed limits are intended to foster safe driving and prevent auto accidents.

How Do You Prove Negligence Per Se in a Car Accident Case?

In order to prove that a car accident may have been caused by negligence per se, you will need to present evidence that the at-fault party committed a criminal violation. This can be most easily accomplished by proving that the at-fault party received a criminal citation or was arrested following the accident for the violation.

You will also need to prove that the at-fault party’s criminal violation was the direct and proximate cause of your accident. For example, if you get into an accident with someone who was speeding, the fact that they were speeding may be found to be incidental to the accident if it turns out that you had run the red light. In that example, you may be found to have committed negligence per se.

Do Certain Factors Need to Be Met for Something to Be Considered Negligence Per Se?

If you believe that you have a negligence per se claim, you will need to prove that:

  1. A law was violated. You will have to establish that the at-fault party violated a statute or ordinance. You may need to wait until a conviction and imposition of a penalty or fine
  2. The violation can be punished by criminal penalty, not civil penalty. Violation of a regulation that only carries a civil penalty or fine cannot be used to support a claim of negligence per se. Instead, it may be used as evidence in a traditional claim of negligence
  3. The law is intended to protect the public from the injury you suffered. You must show that the statute or ordinance was enacted to protect people from the injuries you’ve suffered. For example, a law against reckless driving is intended to protect other motorists and pedestrians from car accidents
  4. You are a member of the class of persons the law is intended to protect. If the at-fault driver was operating his or her vehicle recklessly and hit your vehicle, you would likely be considered among the class of persons the law against reckless driving was intended to protect, namely other motorists
  5. The defendant’s violation was unexcused or unjustified. If the defendant can assert a legal excuse or justification for his or her behavior, there would likely be no negligence per se since a legal excuse or justification would undercut criminal liability

Is Negligence Per Se a Criminal or Civil Procedure?

Although negligence per se arises from a criminal violation, it is only relevant to civil lawsuits.

The beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard of proof required in criminal cases is stricter than the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard for civil cases. In addition, you will likely need to wait until the conclusion of the at-fault party’s criminal proceeding to assert a negligence per se argument. If the at-fault party is acquitted, then there was no criminal violation to assert negligence per se.

Is Negligence Per Se a Separate Cause of Action?

Negligence per se is not necessarily considered a separate cause of action. Instead, it may be more properly considered a means of proving the negligence of an at-fault party in a car accident claim.

Claiming negligence per establishes that the at-fault driver breached a duty of care owed to the injured plaintiff and that the plaintiff was injured and suffered damages as a result. However, a plaintiff in a car accident case may try to prove his or her claim through traditional negligence and alternatively through negligence per se.

Is Violation of a Statute Negligence Per Se?

A violation of a statute must be a criminal violation or carry criminal penalties or fines, rather than being a civil violation or carrying only civil fines, in order to be the basis for negligence per se. Whether or not a driver’s statutory violation constitutes negligence per se will depend on whether the statute is considered a criminal violation or a civil violation under state law.

If you have been injured in a car accident that may have been caused because the at-fault driver broke the law, contact a personal injury lawyer at Truitt Law Offices today to schedule a free case evaluation. We are ready to discuss your accident and investigate the possibility of pursuing financial compensation for you through a claim of negligence per se.

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