Severe injuries from car accidents, defective products, and medical malpractice can be a distressing experience. Fortunately, you can seek compensatory damages for financial losses and injuries by filing a personal injury claim. Plaintiffs in Indiana may also be awarded punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages.
At Stracci Law Group, we understand the complicated legal process of personal injury cases. That's why we recommend hiring experienced Indiana personal injury attorneys to help you get the compensation you deserve. Our team has extensive experience handling personal injury cases and can help you determine whether you may be entitled to punitive damages.
Understanding Punitive Damages in Indiana
Punitive damages are vital for victims seeking justice in severe negligence and injury cases. Also known as exemplary damages, punitive damages are intended to punish defendants for acting recklessly or maliciously and to deter others from engaging in similar behavior.
To obtain punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the rights of others or with intentional malice. It can be a demanding standard, requiring more than just negligence or carelessness. The plaintiff must also provide clear and convincing evidence to support their claim for punitive damages.
In Indiana, plaintiffs awarded punitive damages will receive only 25% of the award, with the remaining 75% allocated to the Violent Crimes Victim Compensation Fund by the state treasurer. This fund helps victims and their dependents cover medical treatment, lost wages, funeral costs, and counseling sessions.
When Are Punitive Damages Awarded in Indiana?
In Indiana, punitive damages are awarded in cases where the defendant's actions were intentional and particularly obvious. The plaintiff shall prove that the defendant is liable for gross negligence, fraud, or malicious or reckless behavior. Punitive damages are usually not granted if the defendant did not intend to cause injury or harm or was unaware that their actions could cause harm.
In cases where punitive damages are sought, the burden of proof falls on the plaintiff. It means that you or your injury attorney must present clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's purposeful actions caused your injuries and that your evidence is likely valid. To win punitive damages, you must also strongly argue why these damages are necessary based on the defendant's actions.
Types of Cases When Punitive Damages Can Be Recoverable
Unlike other types of personal injury damages that can be recoverable, punitive damages are awarded in cases of extreme negligence, malicious or intentional wrongdoing, or reckless behavior. Some examples include hit-and-run accidents and drunk driving crashes. However, when a plaintiff demands punitive damages and must provide clear and convincing evidence that such damages are warranted, which is a higher standard of proof than other damages.
Under Indiana law, even if a plaintiff is entitled to compensatory and punitive damages, there is a cap on the amount they can recover. It is limited to three times the amount of compensatory damages or $50,000, whichever is greater. Plaintiffs must work with an attorney to ensure they receive all entitled damages.
Exceptions to Recovering Punitive Damages in Indiana
While recoverable under Indiana law, punitive damages are subject to restrictions imposed by the Indiana legislature, which has the authority to modify, restrict, or eliminate punitive damages. Wrongful death cases, for instance, are civil cases where someone dies due to someone else's negligence or intentional actions. However, under Indiana law, courts are prohibited from awarding punitive damages in these cases.
Punitive damages also can't be sought in cases lacking willful misconduct. You can't seek punitive damages if the defendant acted with simple negligence. The defendant must have been conscious that their actions had a high chance of resulting in the injury before one could seek punitive damage. Additionally, punitive damages are not recoverable in cases against government entities or employees acting within the scope of their employment. It protects them from excessive punitive damages threatening their ability to fulfill public duties.
Limits on Punitive Damages in Indiana
There are limits on the amount of punitive damages a plaintiff can recover under Indiana law. In personal injury cases, Indiana Code Section 34-51-3-4 limits the punitive damages a plaintiff can receive to three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded or $50,000, whichever is greater.
There are also limits on punitive damages in medical malpractice cases. The state has a Medical Malpractice Act that limits the damages a plaintiff can receive in a medical malpractice lawsuit. Punitive damages in medical malpractice cases are limited to the lesser of the following: (1) the amount of compensatory damages awarded or (2) the greater of $50,000 or three times the amount of the actual costs of medical care and related expenses incurred by the plaintiff as a result of the malpractice.
These caps on punitive damages were implemented to prevent excessive damage awards and promote consistency in jury verdicts. However, it is essential to note that these caps may not apply in certain situations, such as intentional harm, fraud, or gross negligence. It is crucial to seek the advice of an experienced attorney to help you navigate the complex laws surrounding punitive damages and work to ensure that you receive the compensation you deserve.
How to Pursue Punitive Damages in Indiana?
To pursue punitive damages in Indiana, the plaintiff must provide clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malicious intent or reckless disregard for the plaintiff's rights. It is a higher standard of proof than the "preponderance of the evidence" standard required for most civil claims. Punitive damages are often sought in addition to compensatory damages, which are meant to compensate the plaintiff for their losses.
Working with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help gather evidence and build a strong case is essential to increase the likelihood of recovering punitive damages. An attorney can also help ensure the plaintiff meets all the legal requirements for pursuing punitive damages, such as proving that the defendant's conduct was willful and wanton.
How Is the Payment of Punitive Damages Processed?
If a jury decides to award punitive damages in a legal case, the at-fault party is responsible for paying the damages to the court clerk where the action is pending. Once the court clerk receives the payment, 25% of the award is paid to the victim, and the remaining 75% is sent to the treasurer of the state. The treasurer then deposits the funds into the violent crime victims compensation fund, as stated in IC 34-51-3-6(c)(2).
Stracci Law Group Is Here to Assist You in Recovering Punitive Damages
If you're dealing with a serious injury and seeking punitive damages, it's crucial to hire a personal injury attorney. With the higher burden of proof placed on plaintiffs in punitive damages cases, a lawyer's aid is essential.
At Stracci Law Group, we understand the challenges of seeking punitive damages. Our team will build a strong case for you and work tirelessly to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. If you've suffered a serious injury and believe you may be eligible for punitive damages, contact us for a consultation. We'll help you understand your legal rights and fight to protect them.