COA affirms $4.8 million prejudgment interest award after $32 million verdict

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The guardianship of a woman that previously received a $32.5 million jury verdict will also receive $4.8 million in prejudgment interest after the Indiana Court of Appeals found no error in the grant of the prejudgment interest award.

In J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., and Terry L. Brown, Jr. v. The Guardianship of Kristen Zak (mem. dec.), 45A03-1710-CT-2429, Kristen Zak was injured in January 2006 when her car skidded on ice on Interstate 65 in Jasper County and slammed into a semi-truck, owned by J. B. Hunt. The truck had jackknifed an hour earlier.

Zak’s attorney argued Terry L. Brown, Jr., the truck's driver, had been going too fast for conditions and failed to activate emergency flashers or set out reflective triangles to warn other drivers of the accident. Thus, the Guardianship of Kristen Zak filed a complaint against J.B. Hunt and Brown, alleging their negligence caused Zak’s injuries.

The matter proceeded to a jury trial, which resulted in a $32.5 million damages award in favor of the guardianship. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that verdict in 2016, and the case was sent back to the Lake Superior Court, which awarded the guardianship $4.81 million in prejudgment interest.

In the instant appeal, J.B. Hunt and Brown argued the Lake Superior Court abused its discretion in awarding prejudgment interest because the guardianship failed to satisfy the requirements of the Tort Prejudgment Interest Statute. They also argued the request for prejudgment interest was untimely.

However, the appellate court found there was no abuse of discretion in awarding prejudgment interest to the guardianship, noting that any delays in the guardianship’s settlement offer were partially attributable to the appellants, who withheld certain critical documents relating to their fault during the discovery phase. Further, because the settlement offer included time-limiting language, the trial court properly determined the offer satisfied the TPIS.

Senior Judge Ezra Friedlander also wrote the appellants weren’t harmed by the 10-month delay in the guardianship’s prejudgment interest request, considering the litigation was still ongoing at the time the request was made. Thus, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in making the multi-million dollar prejudgment interest award.

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