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DTCI: Indiana high court upholds punitive damage caps

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The Indiana Supreme Court recently upheld caps on punitive damages and the procedure for allocating punitive damage awards. In State v. Doe, 987 N.E.2d 1066 (Ind. May 14, 2013), the court upheld the statute capping punitive damage awards at the greater of three times the amount of compensatory damages or $50,000. Ind. Code § 34-51-3-4. The court also upheld the statute requiring the plaintiff receive 25 percent of the punitive damages award while 75 percent goes to the Violent Crime Victim Compensation Fund. Ind. Code § 34-51-3-6. The punitive damages statute provides that the jury not be apprised of the caps or the 25-75 allocation. Ind. Code § 34-51-3-3.

The suit alleged childhood sexual abuse by a priest affiliated with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The jury awarded the plaintiff $5,000 for compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages. The Indiana Supreme Court ruled the punitive award should be reduced to $50,000 (which was the maximum amount recoverable for punitive damages because it was greater than three times the $5,000 compensatory award) and that the plaintiff receive 25 percent of the $50,000 ($12,500). By upholding the punitive damages statute, the Indiana Supreme Court determined the plaintiff’s recovery would be $5,000, plus $12,500, totaling $17,500.

The punitive damages statute obviously resulted in the plaintiff recovering far less than the $155,000 verdict. This may explain why the Marion County trial judge ruled the punitive damages statute violated the Indiana Constitution’s right to a jury trial and separation of powers doctrine.

The case proceeded directly to the Indiana Supreme Court under Ind. App. R. 4(A)(1)(B), which provides for a mandatory direct appeal of a final judgment declaring a state or federal statute unconstitutional in whole or in part.

A unanimous Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and thereby upheld the punitive damages cap and the 25-75 apportionment. The court relied on its earlier decision upholding caps on compensatory damages in medical malpractice cases. Johnson v. St. Vincent Hosp., Inc., 404 N.E.2d 585, 602 (Ind. 1980). The court also noted it had previously upheld the allocation of punitive damages to the victim compensation fund when the allocation was attacked on a different legal theory. Cheatham v. Pohle, 789 N.E.2d 467, 473 (Ind. 2003).

The state of Indiana intervened in the case to protect the allocation to the victim compensation fund and thus the archdiocese was not involved in the appeal. This unanimous decision shows the Indiana Supreme Court gives great deference to statutes enacted by the General Assembly and that punitive damages will be capped in Indiana for the foreseeable future.•

The DTCI thanks Randall Graff, a shareholder in Kopka Pinkus Dolin & Eads, for sending this update to the association. The opinions expressed are those of Mr. Graff.
 

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  1. So if I am reading it right, only if and when African American college students agree to receive checks labeling them as "Negroes" do they receive aid from the UNCF or the Quaker's Educational Fund? In other words, to borrow from the Indiana Appellate Court, "the [nonprofit] supposed to be [their] advocate, refers to [students] in a racially offensive manner. While there is no evidence that [the nonprofits] intended harm to [African American students], the harm was nonetheless inflicted. [Black students are] presented to [academia and future employers] in a racially offensive manner. For these reasons, [such] performance [is] deficient and also prejudice[ial]." Maybe even DEPLORABLE???

  2. I'm the poor soul who spent over 10 years in prison with many many other prisoners trying to kill me for being charged with a sex offense THAT I DID NOT COMMIT i was in jail for a battery charge for helping a friend leave a boyfriend who beat her I've been saying for over 28 years that i did not and would never hurt a child like that mine or anybody's child but NOBODY wants to believe that i might not be guilty of this horrible crime or think that when i say that ALL the paperwork concerning my conviction has strangely DISAPPEARED or even when the long beach judge re-sentenced me over 14 months on a already filed plea bargain out of another districts court then had it filed under a fake name so i could not find while trying to fight my conviction on appeal in a nut shell people are ALWAYS quick to believe the worst about some one well I DID NOT HURT ANY CHILD EVER IN MY LIFE AND HAVE SAID THIS FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS please if anybody can me get some kind of justice it would be greatly appreciated respectfully written wrongly accused Brian Valenti

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  4. A high ranking bureaucrat with Ind sup court is heading up an organization celebrating the formal N word!!! She must resign and denounce! http://m.indianacompanies.us/friends-educational-fund-for-negroes.364110.company.v2#top_info

  5. ND2019, don't try to confuse the Left with facts. Their ideologies trump facts, trump due process, trump court rules, even trump federal statutes. I hold the proof if interested. Facts matter only to those who are not on an agenda-first mission.

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