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Treble damages under Sales Rep Act not subject to Punitive Damages Act

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The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously held Thursday that treble damages under the Sales Representative Act are not subject to the Punitive Damages Act.

The justices granted transfer to and reversed the trial court’s ruling which agreed with Mor/Ryde International Inc. that the punitive damages restrictions apply to an action pending against the company. Ralph Andrews sued the company after Mor/Ryde terminated his contract with the company. Ralph worked as an independent commissioned sales rep for the company for 12 years and argued that it owed him unpaid commissions. He sought recovery under the Sales Representative Act, which allows for companies to be held liable for exemplary damages in an amount no more than three times the sum of the commissions owed to the sales rep.

On interlocutory appeal, a split Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. But in Ralph Andrews v. Mor/Ryde International, Inc., 20S04-1406-PL-399, the justices reversed the trial court, citing Judge Michael Barnes’ dissent.

“We agree with Judge Barnes that Obremski’s distinction between common-law punitive damages and statutory exemplary damages is controlling here. While the Punitive Damages Act was enacted to drastically restrict recovery in light of perceived abuses at common law generally, the Sales Representative Act’s treble-damage provisions at issue here — like the similar Crime Victims Relief Act provisions in (Obremski v. Henderson, 497 N.E.2d 909, 911 (Ind. 1986)) — were enacted to increase recovery from what the common law would otherwise permit. We think it highly unlikely that the Legislature would expand a remedy with one hand (the Sales Representative Act or the Crime Victims Relief Act), while restricting it with the other (the Punitive Damages Act),” Justice Loretta Rush wrote.
She noted that the Legislature could have abolished Obremski’s distinction between common law and statutory punitive damages as part of major 1995 amendments to the Punitive Damages Act, but chose not to do so.

“… we find it instructive that an amendment that dramatically increased the reach of the Punitive Damages Act nevertheless did not include a change extending it to encompass statutory treble damages,” she wrote.

 

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