Drunk Driver Accident Victim Wins Big Verdict after Appeals
In May 2013, Andrew Pappas was driving to his job in Crown Point when his car collided head-on with a car being driven by Danny Sims, who was later found to have had a blood alcohol content of 0.18 at the time of the collision. Pappas sustained serious injuries and Sims was charged with a crime. Pappas filed a complaint against Sims a month after the accident, under theories of negligence, gross negligence, recklessness, and willful and wanton misconduct. Additionally, Pappas’ wife, Melissa, joined the complaint on a loss of consortium claim.
During the pretrial proceedings, Sims was asked to admit or deny that he had previously been convicted of reckless driving and operating while intoxicated in 1996 and 1983. Sims objected on relevance grounds but ultimately said yes. Sims sought to have the evidence of his prior operating while intoxicated convictions thrown out, as well as the investigating officer’s testimony.
A jury returned a $1.4 million verdict for Pappas for compensatory damages, and a $373,500 verdict for his wife for his loss of consortium claim. Pappas was also awarded $182,500 in punitive damages. Sims filed a motion objecting to entry of judgment on the jury’s verdict, which the trial court treated as a motion to correct error and subsequently denied.
Sims then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. A divided Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded the case for a retrial. The Indiana Supreme Court ultimately received the case on transfer and heard oral arguments on the case.
In a unanimous opinion, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the original judgment of the trial court, but Justice Robert Rucker wrote the high court did agree with the Court of Appeals that “evidence of Sims’ prior convictions was ‘not relevant’ with respect to compensatory damages and loss of consortium.’” However, the issue before the court was the narrow question of whether the evidence of his prior convictions was relevant for punitive damages, Rucker said. Sims also tried to argue that the amount of damages was excessive. The Court ruled against him on that argument as well.