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Judges disagree on punitive damages award

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a compensatory damage award today for a couple that was attacked, but the majority remanded the trial court's punitive damage award because it was excessive.

In James G. Clark and Larry A. Biddle III v. Donald and Janet Simbeck, No. 71A03-0801-CV-5, James Clark and Larry Biddle attacked Donald and Janet Simbeck after Donald stopped his car to question why the two had followed them closely in their car and driven recklessly around them.

Donald was hit in the head more than 30 times; Janet was struck once. Clark and Biddle pleaded guilty to two felony counts of battery resulting in serious injury and one misdemeanor count of battery.

A bench trial on the damages resulted in a compensatory award to Donald for $738,500; Janet received $26,000. The couple also received punitive damages of $60,000 each.

Clark and Biddle appealed, arguing the trial court erred in denying their motion for a continuance. The Court of Appeals affirmed because Clark and Biddle delayed hiring replacement counsel after their original attorney withdrew his appearance until the Friday before the trial was set to start, wrote Senior Judge George B. Hoffman.

The trial court's suggestion Clark and Biddle consider waiving the liability issue and proceed with a bench trial on damages didn't prejudice the two, the appellate court ruled. Clark and Biddle weren't forced or intimidated into waiving their jury trial, nor does Indiana's Comparative Fault Act apply in this case because the two didn't make a claim Donald failed to mitigate his damages, wrote the judge.

The Court of Appeals found given the severe pain and injury caused upon Donald because of the attack, the compensatory award was not excessive. However, the appellate court reversed the punitive damages award for the couple because the trial court didn't consider Clark and Biddle's financial condition and ability in ordering them to pay $60,000 in punitive damages to each of the victims. The Court of Appeals remanded for the trial court to determine the amount of punitive damages, if any, reflective of Clark and Biddle's financial status.

Chief Judge John Baker dissented only regarding the punitive damages, finding Clark and Biddle's conduct on the night they attacked the Simbecks to be "so egregious, so malicious, and so brutal that the relatively nominal punitive damages award of $60,000 is warranted."

The appellate court also denied the Simbecks' request for damages and attorney fees because Clark and Biddle's appeal wasn't frivolous or in bad faith.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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