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COA upholds $9 million judgment for man injured in crash

January 23, 2018

The Indiana Court of Appeals has upheld a $9 million verdict in favor of a man injured in a motorcycle crash after determining a proffered jury instruction on damages was not erroneous.

In Michael R. Krohn v. William C. Goodwin, 45A03-1707-CT01546, William Goodwin crashed his motorcycle into Michael Krohn’s truck when Krohn pulled out of a parking lot and stopped in Goodwin’s lane of travel. The accident sent Goodwin to the hospital for 13 surgeries, the removal of half of his colon and reconstruction of his abdominal wall.

Goodwin filed a complaint for damages against Krohn, alleging he had acted negligently, recklessly, willfully and wantonly. Meanwhile, Krohn pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and alleged that both he and Goodwin were partially at fault for the accident.

A jury, however, found Krohn to be 100 percent at fault and awarded Goodwin $9.13 million in damages. Krohn failed to file a motion to correct error, but instead filed the instant appeal.

On appeal, Krohn argued Final Jury Instruction 4/23 was deficient to the point that it may have affected the amount of the verdict in Goodwin’s favor. He specifically alleged the instruction referenced multiple standards of proof, improperly explained damages, misstated the law and was confusing and inconsistent.

During the trial, Krohn told the trial court he preferred the pattern instruction over the one that was given, but the court used Instruction 4/23 over his objection. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision Tuesday, with Judge Mark Bailey writing Krohn had not pointed to any authority to support his theory that the instruction could have been collaterally attacked due to the authorities cited or a deviation from the model instruction.

Krohn next argued the instruction imposed an improper burden of proof on him by stating, “…defendants should bear the risk of any uncertainty as to the amount of damage they may have caused.” But considering the jury instructions as a whole, Bailey said the jury was informed the burden was on the plaintiff to establish liability and damages.

Next, Krohn alleged language that described general damages as a “broader category of compensation designed to compensate for the loss of quality of life” was erroneous under Canfield v. Sandock, 563 N.E.2d 1279 (Ind. 1990). But the issues in the instruction in Canfield were not present in the instant case, Bailey said, so referencing the “loss of quality and enjoyment of life” was not an invitation to award Goodwin a double recovery.

The court also rejected the argument that special and general damages should not have been distinguished from each other, finding no legal authority to support that proposition. Finally, the language of the instructions, though in-artful, did not cause the jury to believe damages would be permitted “based merely on the fact that an injury/damage exists,” the court said.

“…(H)aving failed to file a motion to correct error, Krohn seeks a collateral means to obtain re-assessment of the damages,” Bailey wrote. “Embellishing upon his extremely cursory trial objection, he asks that we reverse and remand this matter for a new trial, all the while conceding liability on his part.”

“We discern no legal grounds from Krohn’s arguments upon which to do so,” he wrote.

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