Quadriplegic Wins $35M Verdict in Indiana DUI Crash; Whether He Can Collect is Uncertain

A man who was rendered quadriplegic in an Indiana drunk driving accident several years ago was awarded $35 million by a jury in Marion County recently, according to The Indiana Lawyer. However, the most he would be able to collect, following a finding of 40 percent comparative fault on his part, is $21 million. This sounds like a lot, but it’s only going to be enough to cover his around-the-clock care provided by his parents, doctors, nurses, and home health providers. Furthermore, he still faces a battle over whether the auto insurer will even be compelled to pay, since the defendant insurer in a separate case argues the coverage did not extend to the plaintiff as a passenger of his own vehicle. 

There is a lot to unpack in this case, so let our injury attorneys start with what reportedly happened on the night in question. The two men were reportedly at a bar in Marion County, with the plaintiff’s truck parked outside. That truck was insured by Progressive. The two men consumed alcohol, and it is undisputed that both were impaired when they chose to leave the bar. A bartender at the establishment called a taxi company to give the pair a ride. However, as that taxi driver pulled into the parking lot, the two men opted to drive themselves home, with the plaintiff handing over the keys to his truck to his friend. (Although Indiana Code section 7.1-5-10-15.5, the state’s dram shop law, allows for bars and other establishments to be held liable for drunk driving injuries to third parties, the bartender’s effort to have a taxi driver take them home significantly limited the site’s liability, although it was later deemed five percent at fault.)

The driver crashed before the men reached their destination, rendering the passenger/vehicle owner paralyzed from the neck down. Although the defendant driver had initially argued he was not behind the wheel, security footage at a facility near the crash site proved otherwise, since he was seen exiting the driver seat.

The driver was later convicted on criminal charges. At the civil trial, attorneys for the plaintiff showed jurors footage of the plaintiff’s everyday life, in an attempt to illustrate the damages he suffered as a result of the crash. The images showed his mother moving him from the bed to the toilet and from the toilet to the shower, dressing him, feeding him, and more. Although $35 million can seem like excessive damages, the reality is that in car accident cases wherein the plaintiff is profoundly and permanently injured, it’s not a stretch. Although tort reform advocates hold up verdicts like this to illustrate how people “take advantage” of the system, those who actually sit on juries and listen to the effect such negligence has on their lives understand why these amounts make sense.

There was still the issue of comparative fault. Per Indiana Code section 34-51-2, plaintiffs whose actions contributed to the incident that resulted in their injury may still collect damages, as long as their share of the blame does not exceed 50 percent. Plaintiffs who are 51 percent or more liable for their own injuries are effectively barred from collecting damages. In this case, the plaintiff was 40 percent liable, so he was not barred, although his damages were proportionately reduced by 40 percent.

Finally, there is the question of whether the plaintiff will be able to collect the damages. In a pending case against his own insurer, the plaintiff argues his insurer is liable for damages. The auto insurer, however, argues that the liability coverage does not apply to the plaintiff, since he was a passenger rather than the driver in his own truck. The plaintiff argues that even if the family exclusion provision applies, the insurer would still be liable under the uninsured motorist provision of the plan.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Quadriplegic awarded $35 million by Marion County jury, Dec. 14, 2017, By Marilyn Odendahl, TheIndianaLawyer.com

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Holidays Prime for Drowsy Driving Crashes, Dec. 21, 2017, Gary Car Accident Attorney Blog