Jury award of $21M in drunk driving crash upheld

October 26, 2018

A Marion County jury’s award of more than $21 million to a passenger rendered paraplegic when an intoxicated friend crashed his truck after a night of drinking was upheld Friday by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

The appellate panel affirmed the jury verdict in all respects in Nolan Clayton v. Gregory Smith, 18A-CT-705, which Indianapolis legal watchers called one of the largest personal injury awards in memory. A jury awarded Gregory Smith $35 million in damages in December, finding Nolan Clayton 60 percent at fault, thus owing $21 million. The jury also awarded Smith more than $714,000 in prejudgment interest.

Clayton and Smith were co-workers at the Stacked Pickle bar and restaurant chain who often socialized and drank together, according to the record. In February 2016, the two drank together at an Indianapolis Stacked Pickle for several hours after Smith worked an event there. Another Stacked Pickle employee later asked Smith to leave. He and Clayton complied, and an employee called a cab for the two.

But as the cab arrived, Clayton drove off in Smith’s vehicle as Smith rode as a passenger, and Clayton later crashed. He was uninjured, but Smith was ejected and suffered a broken neck.

After the jury verdict in Smith’s civil suit, Clayton appealed, seeking a new trial. He argued that evidence of past drunken driving and expert witness testimony should not have been admitted. Clayton also claimed prejudgment interest was improperly awarded and that he should be entitled to post-verdict credit for payments Smith received from auto insurance policies.

The COA rejected those claims in a 29-page opinion by Judge L. Mark Bailey.

“Clayton did not demonstrate an abuse of the trial court’s discretion in its evidentiary rulings,” the panel concluded. “The trial court did not err in finding the prejudgment interest statute to be applicable. Clayton did not establish entitlement to a contemporaneous reduction of the jury verdict under the advance payment statute.”

Despite the affirmation of the jury verdict, it’s far from certain that Smith will receive the money awarded. In a related case, a different Court of Appeals panel earlier this month reversed a Marion Superior Court order that Smith’s insurer pay the damages assessed to Clayton from his uninsured motorist coverage under his policy. That case is Progressive Southeastern Insurance Co. v. Gregory Smith, et al., 18A-PL-312.   






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