Earlier this month, an Indiana appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case involving allegations that the plaintiff was seriously injured when he was involved in an accident that was caused by the defendant, who was drunk at the time. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss when previous convictions for driving under the influence are admissible, and if such evidence is admissible, for which purpose the jury may consider it.
The plaintiff was driving to work when the defendant’s vehicle inexplicably crossed over the center median and collided with the plaintiff’s vehicle head-on. Police arrived on the scene and conducted a blood-alcohol test on the defendant, which revealed he was legally intoxicated. The defendant was subsequently arrested, charged, and convicted for driving under the influence.
The plaintiff later filed a personal injury case against the defendant, seeking compensation for the injuries he sustained in the accident. During the trial, the plaintiff presented evidence of the defendant’s driving history, which contained two prior instances in which the defendant was cited for driving while under the influence of alcohol in 1996 and 1983. The defendant objected to the introduction of this evidence, claiming that it was “more prejudicial than probative” and violated the rules of evidence. The court disagreed and admitted the evidence, and the jury awarded the plaintiff over $1,444,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $182,500 in punitive damages. The defendant appealed.