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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. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

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