Earlier this month, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard a case requiring the court to determine if a lower court properly denied the plaintiff the opportunity to submit her claim for punitive damages to the jury. Ultimately, the court determined that the lower court improperly ruled that the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages failed as a matter of law. As a result, the decision of whether the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages will be made by a jury, rather than a judge.
Courts Determine Many Threshold Issues Before Submitting a Case to a Jury
In any personal injury case, before the plaintiff’s claims are put in front of a jury, a judge makes several threshold determinations as to the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff’s case. If a judge determines that one or all of a plaintiff’s claims fail as a matter of law, those claims will be dismissed, and the plaintiff will not have the opportunity to present the legally insufficient claims to a jury.
A Judge Improperly Determined the Plaintiff Was Not Entitled to Punitive Damages
In the recent case mentioned above, a woman was seriously injured when she was exiting the shower at the defendant’s hotel. After the accident, a hotel employee came up to see what had occurred and explained to the woman that the shower door had come off its runners. This allowed the door to slam into the wall when the woman opened it, causing the door to shatter.
The woman filed a personal injury lawsuit against the hotel. She presented evidence that the hotel knew there was a problem with some of the room’s doors and also that the shower door in her very room had previously been replaced after it shattered. The hotel employee told the woman that the room was on the “do not sell” list, and she should not have been given that particular room.
The hotel admitted that it was negligent, and the case went to trial only on the issue of damages. The plaintiff sought punitive damages; however, the court denied the plaintiff’s request. The court explained that, as a matter of law, the plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages. After a jury trial, the woman received $12,000 in compensatory damages. She appealed the court’s decision to not allow her to pursue punitive damages.
On appeal, the woman was successful in getting the lower court’s decision reversed. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that punitive damages may be appropriate if the plaintiff could show that the hotel acted with a “wanton disregard for the rights of others.” Here, the court held that the determination of whether the hotel’s conduct rose to that level was a decision that should have been made by a jury, rather than a judge. As a result, the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages will be heard by a jury.
Have You Been Injured in an Indiana Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been a victim of an Indiana slip-and-fall accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation to help you recoup the costs associated with your injuries. In addition, some plaintiffs will be entitled to punitive damages if the defendant’s conduct was especially egregious. To learn more about Indiana personal injury cases and when punitive damages may be appropriate, call the personal injury law firm of Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse. We understand the stresses that accident victims face, and we do everything we can to make the recovery process as painless as possible. Call 888-532-7766 today to set up a free consultation.
How Government Design Immunity Can Eliminate an Indiana Personal Injury Plaintiff’s Claim to Recovery, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, January 3, 2017
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