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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. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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