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August 31 - Newsblog #1
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Homeowner and Wife Sue over Police Shooting
September 7 - Newsblog #2
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Homeowner’s Possession of Handgun Legal Under 2nd Amendment
September 14 - Newsblog #3
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: if a Government or Government Agency is at Fault, You Can Sue
September 21 - Newsblog #4
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Lawsuit Against Police Department Invokes the Civil Rights Act
September 28 - Newsblog #5
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: a Clear Line from the Action – or Inaction – to the Injury
October 12 - Newsblog #6
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Police Insensitivity Turns Traffic Stop into a Travesty
October 19 - Newsblog #7
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Police Who Abuse Power Must Be Held Accountable, Law Professor States
October 26 - Newsblog #8
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Holding Overly Aggressive Police Accountable
November 2 - Newsblog #9
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Brown Vs. Impd Case About Much More Than Punishment or Money
November 9 - Newsblog #10
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Improper Medical Diagnosis and Care Resulted in Loss of an Eye
November 16 - Newsblog #11
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Medical Malpractice Claims Have a Front End and a Back End
November 30 - Newsblog #12
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Truths About Medical Malpractice
December 7 - Newsblog #13
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Yes, You Can Sue City Hall
December 14 - Newsblog #14
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Slip and Fall Changes Two Lives Forever
December 28 - Newsblog #15
In the News: Ramey & Hailey Year in Review
January 4 - Newsblog #16
In the News: Teen’s Sexual Abuse Case Calls Attention to the Problem
January 11 - Newsblog #17
In the News: Parents of Survivor Sue Parents of Shooter
January 18 - Newsblog #18
In the News: Erin Brockovich Teams Up with Indiana Moms
January 25 - Newsblog #19
Your Injury Attorneys in the News: Case Settled in Favor of Catastrophic Slip and Fall Injury Victim
January 31 - Newsblog #20
In the News: Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Rehab Facility
February 8 - Newsblog #21
In the News: Nurse Arrested in Sexual Abuse Case
February 15 - Newsblog #22
In the News: Running the Clock on Indiana Medical Malpractice
February 22 - Newsblog #23
In the News: to Repeal or Not to Repeal – Indiana Legislators Rule “not”
March 1 - Newsblog #24
In the News: Helping Physicians Keep Helping
March 8 - Newsblog #25
In the News: Parents of Brain-damaged Infant Sue Hospital
March 15 - Newsblog #26
In the News: Owner of Gun Wins Decision
March 22 - Newsblog #27
In the News: Indiana House Passes Long Term Care Protections Bill
April 5 - Newsblog #28
In the News: Slip-and-fall Victim Wins Right to Sue Dollar Tree
April 12 - Newsblog #29
In the News: Inspection Report Shows Vets Harmed at 52 Nursing Homes
April 19 - Newsblog #30
In the News: Sandwich Diversion Causes Fatal Two-semitrailer Crash
April 26 - Newsblog #31
In the News: Does Premises Liability Cover Goose Attacks?
May 10 - Newsblog #32
Two-week-old N.y. Verdict Offers Takeaways for Slip and Fall Victims
May 17 - Newsblog #33
In the News: Barrel Blast Triggers Wrongful Death Lawsuit
May 24 - Newsblog #34
In the News: when a Product Manufacturer is Not at Fault
May 31 - Newsblog #35
In the News – College Doc’s Sexual Abuse of Students Coming to Light
June 7 - Newsblog #36
In the News – One Week, Four Motorcycle Accidents
June 14 - Newsblog #37
List of Troubled Nursing Homes Released
June 21 - Newsblog #38
In the News: Kansas No-caps Ruling Changes Personal Injury Climate
June 28 - Newsblog #39
In the News: Jury Awards $10.5 Million for Pain and Suffering in Birth Injury Case
July 5 - Newsblog #40
In the News: More Indicted in Last Year’s Duck Boat Tragedy
July 17 - Newsblog #41
In the News: Richard Hailey on Litigation Team for Lawsuit Vs. Tesla
July 24 - Newsblog #42
In the News: Malpractice Lawsuit Yields Largest Award in History
August 28 - Newsblog #43
In the News: Trucks V. Passenger Cars – Score 18:116. Everybody Loses
December 4 - Newsblog #44
In the News: High School Chaplain Suspended on Allegations of Sexual Abuse
December 11 - Newsblog #45
In the News: Franklin, Indiana Continues to Face Toxic Waste Problem
December 11 - Newsblog #46
In the News: Franklin, Indiana Continues to Face Toxic Waste Problem
December 18 - Newsblog #47
In the News: Parents of Bus Accident Victim Awarded $20 Million
January 8 - Newsblog #48
In the News: Parents Sue After Daughter’s Brain Damaged in Surgery
January 10 - Newsblog #49
In the News: Trucking Accidents Due to Careless Driving Increase
January 29 - Newsblog #50
In the News: Trucking Accidents Due to Careless Driving Increase
February 19 - Newsblog #51
Indiana Authorities Buy More Time to Prosecute Child Abusers
February 26 - Newsblog #52
In the News: Teen Brain-injured at Birth Awarded $15.1 Million
March 4 - Newsblog #53
In the News: Did Connecticut School Officials Turn a Deaf Ear to Sexual or Physical Abuse?
March 18 - Newsblog #54
In the News: Facility Held to Blame for Medical Treatment Delivered in a Careless and Negligent Manner
April 1 - Newsblog #55
In the News: Emergency Measures Instituted in Indiana’s Judicial System
April 8 - Newsblog #56
In the News: Medical Malpractice Limits Challenged in California
April 15 - Newsblog #57
In the News: Indiana Supreme Court Issues Five Orders for Legal Proceedings
May 6 - Newsblog #58
In the News: Nursing Homes with Covid-19 Cases Have Been Violating Federal Infection Control Rules for Years
May 13 - Newsblog #59
In the News: Physician Not Negligent in Choosing One Treatment over Another
May 20 - Newsblog #60
In the News: Nursing Homes with Covid-19 Cases Have Been Violating Federal Infection Control Rules for Years
June 17 - Newsblog #61
In the News: Ruling Reverse on Police Shooting – New News, Old Story?
July 8 - Newsblog #62
In the News: What is This Thing Called Qualified Immunity?
July 15 - Newsblog #63
In the News: Sooner or Later for Virus-delayed Jury Trials
July 29 - Newsblog #64
In the News: Truck Driver Sentenced, Another Charged in Fatal Crashes
August 5 - Newsblog #65
In the News: Double-booked Doctors Cause Personal Injury to Patients
August 12 - Newsblog #66
In the News: Double-booked Doctors Cause Personal Injury to Patients
August 26 - Newsblog #67
In the News: $4.9m Auto Accident Settlement Teaches Many Lessons
September 2 - Newsblog #68
In the News: Negligence Unmasked at Pennsyvania Trial
September 9 - Newsblog #69
In the News: Double-booked Doctors Cause Personal Injury to Patients
October 7 - Newsblog #70
In the News: Heart Rhythm Drug Poisoned Patient’s Lungs
October 14 - Newsblog #71
In the News: Prisoner Vs. Prison – a Tale of Two Medical Negligence Lawsuits
November 4 - Newsblog #72
In the News: Richard Hailey Serves As Co-counsel in Tragic Medical Malpractice Case
November 18 - Newsblog #73
In the News: Two-year-old Shoots Mom in Tragic Reminder of the Need for Safe Storage of Guns

Litigation Newsletter

Supreme Court Curbs Punitive Damage Awards

An injured party who has successfully proven that the injury and damages were caused by the defendant may be entitled to an award of “punitive damages” in addition to actual damages. Punitive damages are designed to punish wrongdoing on the part of a defendant and to deter the defendant (and others) from similar conduct.

Punitive Damages

The injured party bears the burden of showing that the defendant’s conduct warrants a punitive damage award. What is needed to meet this burden varies from state to state, but usually the injured party must show that the defendant acted maliciously (with ill will or spite, or the intent to injure), or in reckless disregard of the injured party’s rights (reflecting a complete indifference to the safety and rights of others).

Punitive damage awards are not common; it is estimated that they are awarded in less than 4% of all verdicts. When awarded, however, the amounts may be substantial and may garner publicity. Critics have argued for many years that jury awards of punitive damages have become excessive, out of proportion to the real economic harm sustained by the plaintiff. A number of states have responded with laws placing limits on punitive damage awards. Within the past decade, there have been a couple of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases that considered punitive damages and set some limits on such damages.

The Supreme Court Decision in the BMW Case

In 1990, Dr. Ira Gore, Jr. bought a black BMW sports sedan. He then discovered the car had been repainted by the manufacturer, without the dealer’s knowledge. Gore sued, claiming a repainted car was worth $4,000 less than the purchase price paid. BMW stated its policy of not informing dealers of “minor” repairs less than a certain dollar amount. The jury awarded Gore $4,000 in damages and $4 million punitive damages, based on sales of about 1,000 such “repaired” cars in the U.S. in 1983, i.e., 1,000 cars x $4,000 per car.

BMW argued that the award was excessive, pointing out that that its nondisclosure policy was consistent with the laws of about 25 states. The trial judge and court of appeal affirmed the award. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the decision for the plaintiff, but also ruled that the jury had improperly considered actions by BMW in other jurisdictions in calculating the award, and therefore ordered a reduction of the punitive damages to $2 million. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court held, in 1996, that the award was “grossly excessive” and therefore violated the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Court enunciated three “guideposts” against which punitive damage awards must be measured:

  • The degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct. The Court found that BMW’s conduct showed no evidence of indifference or reckless disregard for the safety of others; the damages were purely economic. Nor was there any bad faith in setting the standard for disclosure of damages or in dealing with Gore’s claim.
  • The ratio between the compensatory ($4,000) and punitive damages ($2 million per the Alabama Supreme Court). The punitive award was 500 times greater than the compensatory damages.
  • The difference between the punitive award and whatever criminal or civil fines could be levied against the defendant’s conduct. The maximum fine in Alabama was $2,000; the highest in other jurisdictions ranged from $5,000 to $10,000. Nothing put BMW on notice that it could face a multi-million dollar sanction for its actions.

The Court recognized Alabama’s right to punish wrongdoers and protect its citizens, but the amount was excessive. The Court also affirmed that Alabama could not punish for actions outside its own borders.

The State Farm Case

In 1981, a Utah man named Curtis Campbell was in an automobile accident. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm) was his insurer. Campbell insisted he was not at fault. Claims were made against him for wrongful death and personal injury and litigation ensued. State Farm defended the action and refused offers to settle for the policy limit ($50,000). State Farm assured Campbell that he did not need separate counsel and that his personal assets were safe.

The jury found against Campbell and awarded the plaintiff $185,849; State Farm at first refused to pay the excess over $50,000 and refused to appeal the decision. Campbell appealed himself, then agreed with the plaintiffs that they would not pursue collection of the judgment if Campbell assigned (transferred) to them 90% of his claim against State Farm for “bad faith.” After Campbell’s appeal failed, State Farm paid the entire judgment.

Campbell sued State Farm for bad faith, fraud, and emotional distress. The jury awarded Campbell $2.6 million compensatory and $145 million in punitive damages. The Utah Supreme Court approved the punitive award, but allowed a reduction by the trial court of the compensatory damages to $1 million. The matter was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2003, the Court ruled that the $145 million award based on a $1 million award violated the Due Process Clause. The Court applied the “guideposts” from the BMW case. It stated that the punitive award was improperly based on the conduct of State Farm throughout the country, plus there was no showing that State Farm treated others similarly as it had Campbell. It added that a punitive award 145 times greater then the compensatory was too much; “few awards exceeding a single digit ratio [less than ten]” satisfy due process. Finally, the most relevant Utah fine for like conduct (“grand fraud”) has a maximum fine of only $10,000. The case was sent back to the Utah Supreme Court, which awarded $9 million in punitive damages.

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