What compensation can you recover in the Hoosier State?
In a personal injury case, you’re entitled to compensation (sometimes called “damages”) from the person or entity legally responsible for your injuries. In Indiana, just like all other states, the types of damages you can recover (and how much) are limited.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the types of damages you can recover in a personal injury lawsuit and the limitations that might apply to your case.
Compensatory damages in Indiana
Compensatory damages are intended to compensate you for the losses caused by your injury. Compensatory damages can be further broken down into economic damages and noneconomic damages.
Let’s take a closer look at each.
Economic damages (sometimes called “special damages”) are intended to compensate you for the monetary losses that result from your injuries. Examples of these damages include:
- Medical expenses. Injuries almost always require medical treatment. Fortunately, you’re entitled to reimbursement for the “reasonable and necessary” medical expenses you incur as a result of your injury (including future medical expenses you may have to pay after your case is settled). Examples of medical expenses include hospital stays, emergency room visits, physical therapy sessions, surgeries, prescriptions, and even the cost of traveling to and from medical facilities.
- Lost income. You’re entitled to reimbursement for any lost income that results from your injury. For example, if you couldn’t go to work for 3 weeks because your back was injured in a car accident caused by another driver, you’re entitled to the wages you would have earned during those 3 weeks. Similarly, if your injury results in a disability that reduces your future ability to earn, you’re entitled to compensation for that loss.
- Property damage. If your property (such as your car) is damaged, you’re entitled to reimbursement for the cost of replacing or repairing the property.
Noneconomic damages (sometimes called “general damages”) are intended to compensate you for the nonmonetary consequences of your injury. Noneconomic damages are difficult to prove, but keeping good records can help. Noneconomic damages include:
- Physical pain and suffering. Though you’re entitled to reimbursement for your medical expenses, these expenses don’t take into account the pain and suffering that your injury has almost certainly caused. Physical pain is subjective and as a result insurance companies, judges, and juries have to rely on a number of factors when attempting to determine the value of your pain and suffering, including the type of injury and length of recovery.
- Emotional distress. Indiana allows compensation for the emotional distress (sometimes called “mental anguish”) you may suffer as a result of your injury. Similar to pain and suffering, emotional distress is difficult to put a price tag on. Insurance companies, judges, and juries generally consider the nature of the injury and the impact it's had on your day-to-day life (nightmares, depression, etc.) when determining how much to award.
- Loss of consortium. If you’re married at the time of your accident, your spouse can recover loss of consortium damages. The theory behind these damages is that the person who was injured may not be able to provide their spouse with the same level of companionship they were able to provide before the accident. These damages are difficult to determine and are usually only awarded in cases involving serious injuries or wrongful death.
Punitive damages in Indiana
Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant for their actions and deter similar future conduct. As a result, punitive damages are generally only awarded in cases where the defendant’s conduct is malicious or intentional.
Though the judge or jury is responsible for determining the amount of damages to award in a personal injury case, some states, including Indiana, have laws that limit the amount of damages that can be recovered.
In Indiana, punitive damages are capped at 3 times the amount of the compensatory damage award or $50,000, whichever is greater.
State v. Doe (Supreme Court of Indiana, 2013)
After a trial based on a lawsuit alleging childhood sexual abuse by a priest affiliated with the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, the jury awarded the plaintiff $5,000 in compensatory damages and $150,000 in punitive damages.
However, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that the punitive award should be reduced to $50,000 (the maximum amount recoverable under the damage cap statute because it was greater than 3 times the $5,000 compensatory damage award).
Additionally, damages are limited in 4 specific instances in Indiana:
- Medical malpractice lawsuits. When a medical professional makes a mistake, the consequences can be devastating. Nevertheless, Indiana caps medical malpractice damages at $1.8 million for an act of malpractice that occurs after June 30, 2019 ($1.65 million if the act of malpractice occurs before then).
- Lawsuits against the government. If the lawsuit is filed against a state, county, or local government body or agency, the amount the plaintiff can recover is capped at $700,000.
- Wrongful death lawsuits. When an unmarried adult (age 23 or older) with no dependents is killed, the estate can’t obtain more than $300,000 through a wrongful death lawsuit. Interestingly, there is no cap on other wrongful death lawsuits (i.e., when the deceased has dependents or is younger than age 23).
- Modified comparative fault. Indiana follows the modified comparative fault rule. This means that the plaintiff is prohibited from recovering any damages if they are 51% at fault or more for the accident. If the plaintiff is less than 51% at fault, their damages will be reduced according to their percentage of fault.
How to calculate damages in your Indiana lawsuit
Many insurance adjusters and attorneys use a formula to arrive at a rough estimate of how much a person’s claim is worth. The formula is as follows:
Economic damages x 1-5 (depending on the severity of the injury) +
lost income = damages.
In this scenario, your formula for calculating damages might look like this:
$60,000 x 4 (because a neck injury is generally considered relatively severe) = $240,000 + $45,000 = $285,000 (total estimated damages).
Keep in mind that this is only a starting point. The final settlement amount can go up or down depending on a number of factors, such as:
- Quality of the medical evidence
- Length of recovery
- Permanence of the injury
Steps you can take to maximize your damage award
There are a few things you can do to give yourself the best chance to recover the damages you deserve.
First, Indiana requires that you take steps to minimize or “mitigate” the harm you suffered. If you fail to do so, your damage award might be reduced.
How do you mitigate damages?
Follow your doctor’s orders and avoid participating in activities (such as sports activities) that might aggravate your injury or slow your recovery time.
Second, keep track of all your medical expenses. Additionally, keep track of your injuries' impact on your day-to-day life (for purposes of supporting a pain and suffering or emotional distress claim).
Third, consult with an experienced personal injury attorney near you. Personal injury attorneys know what damages are available in your state and have experience negotiating with insurance companies. If you don’t know any attorneys, you can find a list of top-rated local Indiana attorneys in our free online directory.