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Indiana’s Punitive Damages Statute: Caps and Conditions

While most Indiana personal injury lawsuits involve recovering damages such as doctor’s bills, loss of income, and sometimes even pain and suffering, an experienced and savvy attorney will seek to recover much more in some cases. Whether it be a car accident claim, medical malpractice, an injury from a defective product, or some other traumatic and injury-causing event, some victims are entitled to what’s known as punitive damages.

When you’re suffering from severe injuries that were of no fault of your own, your priority is to get medical attention and stick to your doctor’s treatment plan. While you’re on the mend, it’s your lawyer’s responsibility to assess your legal rights to compensation and determine whether you can claim punitive damages.

Indiana's Punitive Damages Statute

What Are Punitive Damages?

Unlike economic and non-economic damages in civil lawsuits, which are intended to compensate victims for financial losses and harm suffered, punitive damages are designed to punish and deter the negligent party. Not all states allow victims to seek punitive damages, but Indiana does.

The victim has the burden of proof and must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with intentional misconduct, fraud, or gross negligence. Proving that an individual was harmed intentionally is much more difficult in some cases than merely proving negligence.

  • Intentional Misconduct: This occurs when the defendant’s actions were deliberate and meant to cause harm.
  • Fraud: Defendants who intentionally made false accusations intending to deceive others are guilty of fraud.
  • Gross negligence: Gross negligence are situation where the defendant acted in an extremely careless manner with a complete disregard for the safety of others.

Punitive damages go far beyond compensatory damages. Their primary purpose is to punish and deter others from engaging in similar conduct. Here’s an example of when punitive damages would be justified.

  1. A driver hits a vehicle and the impact causes severe injuries
  2. The police determines that the driver was drunk when the accident occurred
  3. Your lawyer learns that the negligent driver has a history of drunk driving
  4. The court could impose punitive damages to punish and deter driving while drunk

What are the Caps and Conditions of Punitive Damages in Indiana?

What are the Caps and Conditions of Punitive Damages in Indiana?

As we’ve stated above, the conditions of Indiana’s punitive damages statute go well beyond compensating victims for their losses and harm. Since the objective of punitive damages is to punish and deter, one might think that when gross negligence severely harms an individual, there would be no limit to how much this additional compensation could be. However, this isn’t the case. The state of Indiana has placed caps on how much money can be awarded in punitive damages.

Indiana Code Section 34-51-3-4 states that a punitive damages award cannot be more than:

  • Three times the amount of the compensatory damages awarded, or
  • $50,000 (whichever is greater)

For example, if the court awards the victim $10,000 in total damages, the most they could get for punitive damages would be $30,000. However, there is a caveat regarding how punitive damages are paid out. Their primary goal is punishment and deference, but that doesn’t mean the victim is awarded the total sum. Here’s how it works.

Indiana Code 34-51-3-6 states that although the victim is awarded a monetary amount for punitive damages, 75% of the award goes directly to the state’s Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund. The victim is awarded the remaining 25%. This fund financially assists the victims of violent crimes and covers:

  • Medical and Dental Costs: Expenses for treatment and care related to injuries resulting from the crime.
  • Counseling: Costs for mental health services needed due to the trauma of the crime.
  • Funeral and Burial Expenses: For victims who are killed as a result of the crime.
  • Lost Wages: Compensation for lost income due to the victim’s inability to work due to the crime.
  • Other Necessary Costs: Additional expenses that are directly related to the victimization, such as relocation costs for safety reasons.

Key Facts About Indiana Punitive Damages Statute

In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know about punitive damages in Indiana.

  • Not all personal injury cases can seek punitive damages.
  • Your lawyer will have to prove willful negligence to seek punitive damages.
  • Proving punitive damages is more difficult than proving negligence or carelessness.
  • Punitive damages are capped at three times the amount of economic and non-economic damages, or $50,000.
  • Wrongful death lawsuits aren’t eligible for punitive damages
  • Plaintiffs will only receive 25% of the awarded amount for punitive damages; the balance goes to the Indiana Violent Crime Victims Compensation Fund.
  • Judges are not allowed to inform the jury of Indiana’s cap on punitive damages. If the jury awards an amount higher than allowed by law, the judge will reduce the amount to $50,000.
  • Punitive damages cannot be recovered in any case against the government or employees acting within the scope of their employment. This protection shields them from excessive punitive damages that could jeopardize their ability to perform public duties effectively.

Lawyers who can assist you in Recovering All Possible Damages

Let Yosha Law Assist You in Recovering All Possible Damages

From vehicle accidents to slip-and-fall incidents, we are your personal injury lawsuit professionals. Since 1963, our team of savvy and compassionate attorneys has been fighting for Indianians to ensure they have the best possible chance of recovering their losses after an accident.

Don’t attempt to seek compensation without an experienced personal injury lawyer by your side. Insurance companies and claims adjusters aren’t on your team, but we are. Let us fight for your right to fair compensation.

We have law offices all across the state, from Indianapolis to Muncie to Evansville. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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