ILNews

Justices rule on case about worker's compensation, damages

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Upholding a trial court ruling in a case stemming from a construction site accident, the Indiana Supreme Court has offered guidance for future trials about how juries should calculate a plaintiff’s already-paid compensation benefits when determining punitive damage awards.

The unanimous ruling today comes in The Travelers Indemnity Company of America v. Jerry Jarrells, No. 29S02-0908-CV-378, which comes from Hamilton Superior Judge William Hughes. The case involves a Hamilton County construction site accident in 2002 where steel worker Jerry Jarrells was seriously injured when an unbraced concrete block wall fell on him. He received worker’s compensation from Travelers, and was later awarded more than $500,000 in a third-party personal injury action against the general contractor and subcontractor. At trial, the jury determined his injury value was $925,000 and the jury was given an instruction that they should consider Jarrells' collateral source payment - nearly $66,000 of worker’s compensation payments - when determining the amount of damages.

Judge Hughes held that under the instructions given in the case, the jury had already deducted the amount of worker’s compensation payments from its award and there was no recovery for injury previously covered by that worker’s compensation. Travelers appealed the denial of its motion for summary judgment on whether Jarrells should have to pay back the pro rata value of the compensation benefits he received.

In three separate opinions last year, Indiana Court of Appeals judges disagreed as to the application of a 2005 case about worker’s compensation set-off and jury instruction. The majority found Travelers to be entitled to summary judgment although for different reasons, presuming the jury followed the trial court's instructions and applied the law contained within it – meaning Travelers is entitled to a statutory lien and or reimbursement. The panel reversed and remanded, but the justices granted transfer.

Finding both the trial and appellate courts’ interpretations plausible, the justices held that Judge Hughes’ reading should be affirmed because the trial court is in the best position to rule on a jury trial issue when everything appeared to be in order. In this case, Jarrells is not required to repay his employer’s worker’s compensation carrier after receiving a judgment against a third-party tortfeasor, Justice Theodore Boehm wrote.

“However, in future trials where the trier of fact finds the evidence establishes that the plaintiff has received payment for some of the damages from other sources, the award should include those damages, but only to the extent that the evidence establishes an obligation to repay,” Justice Boehm wrote.
 

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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