When you read or hear about a multi-million-dollar judgment in a truck accident lawsuit, it is likely that the millions awarded the injured party are mostly punitive damages. In Indiana, punitive damages, or exemplary damages, refer to money awarded to punish the at-fault party for outrageous conduct that caused injuries, and to discourage similar conduct in the future.
A punitive damages award is based on certain facts of the case, which must be substantiated by convincing evidence at trial. Punitive damages, if awarded, are paid in addition to economic damages and noneconomic damages.
If you have suffered injuries in a semi-truck accident in Indiana, you may be able to pursue compensation that includes punitive damages under special circumstances. The experienced truck accident lawyers of Craig, Kelley & Faultless can review the details of your case and move aggressively to help you pursue compensation for your injuries, including punitive damages if they are warranted.
What is an Indiana Punitive Damages Award?
In a personal injury case, the injured party seeks to recover compensation for losses he or she has had to bear unjustly because of the defendant’s negligence or disregard for safety. In a semi-truck accident, for example, a truck driver’s speeding could be the action that led to the accident and be the basis of a personal injury claim. Similarly, a trucking company’s failure to do routine maintenance on its truck could be grounds for an injury claim if the truck’s brakes were out of adjustment and caused a crash.
Any compensation awarded to the accident victim in a personal injury claim is meant to make the injured party financially whole. It helps the injured party pay medical bills and make up for the physical and emotional damage that the accident has caused. Most claims seek:
- Economic damages: Money for medical expenses, lost income, lost earning capacity, property damage, such as to the damaged car
- Noneconomic damages: Money for pain and suffering, emotional distress and mental anguish.
Punitive damages are additional and are awarded at a jury’s discretion. The attorneys for the plaintiff must make a persuasive argument that the defendant’s actions were intentionally malicious or outrageous, and that, not only must the defendant be punished, but an example should be made through a court order for the at-fault party to pay additional damages.
What Would Be Egregious Conduct in a Truck Accident?
Egregious conduct could be a matter of a truck driver and/or trucking company supervisors knowing that brakes on a truck were likely to fail yet doing nothing about it to avoid the cost and time required for repairs, and brake failure being the cause of a truck accident. This is arguably egregious neglect of a maintenance issue and recklessly risking injury or death among the general public.
We would argue that driving a tractor trailer truck while intoxicated or drowsy because of disregard for the hours of service limits represents outrageous conduct and should be compensable with a punitive damages award. The danger of each is well known and each is a violation of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations, which are enforceable by law.
Fatigued driving is a major issue in the long-haul trucking industry. Truckers and trucking companies are paid to get goods to their destinations on time, but the FMCSA strictly regulates drivers’ Hours of Service (HOS), or consecutive driving hours. Sometimes an investigation of a trucking accident shows that the trucker violated HOS limits and that the trucking company required them to do so.
Violating HOS regulations is extremely dangerous conduct. The FMCSA specifically focuses on the danger posed by fatigued truck drivers and says driver fatigue is a factor in 13 percent of truck accidents.
We would argue for punitive compensation from a trucking company that pushed a driver to keep driving beyond their HOS limits if that driver got into an accident while driving when he or she should have been resting.
Indiana Punitive Damages Limited by Caps and Sharing
In truth, punitive damages in Indiana are rare and are primarily symbolic. The state has instituted limits on what may be awarded and has further decreed that most of the money will not go to the plaintiff.
Indiana law outlines how punitive damages may be awarded in civil cases in Indiana Code Title 34, Article 51, Section 3.
Under Indiana law, punitive damages may not be more than three times the amount of compensatory (economic and noneconomic) damages awarded in the case or $50,000, whichever is more. A jury may award much more – in fact, juries are not to be advised of caps on punitive damages – but IC 34-51-3-5 says the court will reduce any award to the maximum allowed.
When a punitive damage award is paid, the party against whom the judgment was entered shall pay the punitive damage award to the clerk of the court where the action is pending. Upon receiving the payment, the clerk of the court shall:
(1) pay the person to whom punitive damages were awarded 25 percent of the punitive damage award; and
(2) pay the remaining 75 percent of the punitive damage award to the treasurer of state, who shall deposit the funds into the violent crime victims’ compensation fund.
Juries are not told about what the law says. Therefore, a multi-million-dollar award of punitive damages may tell a defendant how much they have shocked and disturbed the jury, and by extension Indiana society as a whole, but the actual penalty will be less onerous.
The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld Indiana’s punitive damages law in Cheatham v. Pohle (789 N.E.2d 467, Ind. 2003), State v. Doe (987 N.E.2d 1066, Ind. 2013), and Techna-Fit, Inc. v. Fluid Transfer Products, Inc. (45 N.E.3d 399, Ind. 2015).
Contact Us About a Truck Accident Claim and Possible Punitive Damages
Personal injury claims are about obtaining justice for those who have suffered costly injuries through no fault of their own. No one gets injured by a semi-trailer to get rich. Accident victims do have a right to seek compensation to regain their financial stability while recovering from a serious injury or disability. Punitive damages make a statement on behalf of the plaintiff and society against an egregiously negligent or reckless defendant.
If you have been injured in a truck accident in Indiana that was not your fault, we can help you seek justice through a civil claim that seeks all of the compensation you deserve. Our experienced truck accident attorneys of Craig, Kelley & Faultless LLC will evaluate the details of your accident and pursue all available forms of compensation for you. We handle truck accident cases on a contingency fee basis, meaning that we only get paid after we win your case. Contact us by telephone or online as soon as possible for a free consultation about your accident and injuries.