ILNews

DTCI: Indiana high court upholds punitive damage caps

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Indiana State Bar Association

Indianapolis Bar Association

Evansville Bar Association

Allen County Bar Association

Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

facebook
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Oh my lordy Therapist Oniha of the winexbackspell@gmail.com I GOT Briggs BACK. Im so excited, It only took 2days for him to come home. bless divinity and bless god. i must be dreaming as i never thoughts he would be back to me after all this time. I am so much shock and just cant believe my eyes. thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart,he always kiss and hug me now at all times,am so happy my heart is back to me with your help Therapist Oniha.

  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

ADVERTISEMENT