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Indiana Supreme Court Upholds Trial Court Discretion in No Contact Motorcycle Accident

personal-injury-attorney-web-logoNo Contact Motorcycle Accident with Extensive Personal Injuries

On September 3, 2008, Mr. Earl was thrown from his motorcycle at a speed of 65 mph when he took evasive action to protect himself from the sudden and unexpected lane change by a semi tractor-trailer driver. Although there was no contact that occurred between Mr. Earl’s motorcycle and the semi, an observant witness confirmed the accident and resulting injuries sustained by Mr. Earl were caused by the unidentified semi-truck.
Prior to the accident he enjoyed an active outdoor lifestyle: hunting, fishing and playing league basketball. He was the co-owner of a small construction business; his expertise and job responsibilities were in excavation and sewer work. And he enjoyed spending time with his wife and playing with his grandchildren.

Economic Damages

Mr. Earl was hospitalized immediately following the accident. His injuries included a fractured collarbone, fractured shoulder blade, and multiple fractures in his left ribs. He also suffered a collapsed lung, laceration of the liver, multiple abrasions, a blood clot in his left leg and a permanent structural change of his left shoulder joint.

Eventually Mr. Earl returned to light-duty office work but he was unable to perform the heavy equipment and excavation duties required of him in his business. His income suffered as a result.

Non-Economic Damages

After Mr. Earl’s medical treatment concluded, every action in his life was executed in pain―from playing with his grandchildren to driving a car. Even lying in bed was problematic. In addition, his wife reported her husband’s pain affected their marriage.

A Claim for Damages – Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage

At the time of the accident, Mr. and Mrs. Earl had uninsured motorist insurance coverage for $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident. When their insurance company refused to pay the full amount of $250,000 for his damages, they brought a claim for damages based on the terms of their contract with their insurance company. While the case was pending, Mr. Earl died from an unrelated illness. When their insurance company admitted liability, the case proceeded to a jury on the question of damages only.

Despite their insurance company’s unsuccessful motion to exclude the policy limits from evidence, the trial court admitted plaintiffs’ insurance policy into evidence. The jury returned with a verdict of $175,000 for Mr. Earl’s damages and $75,000 for Mrs. Earl’s damages totaling $250,000―the exact limits of the policy.

After their insurance company successfully appealed on the grounds that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the $250,000 limits into evidence and that the jury’s verdict was affected by their knowledge of the policy limits, the Earl’s petitioned to the Indiana Supreme Court. The appellate ruling was vacated.

In the Indiana Supreme Court Conclusion, Justice Massa writes:

“…we cannot say the trial court abused its discretion in finding that probative value was not outweighed by substantial prejudice.”

The Indiana Supreme Court took the position that there is not a bright-line rule for admitting insurance coverage but instead it is in the trial court’s discretion to determine what evidence is probative in each case.

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Charlie Ward

Ward & Ward Law Firm
728 S Meridian St
Indianapolis, IN 46225
317-639-9501