INDIANAPOLIS (Legal Newsline) – Indiana’s Supreme Court has overturned an appeals court decision and ruled that former impaired driving convictions can be used as evidence in drunk driving lawsuits.
The case stems from a vehicle collision that occurred on May 17, 2013, in Crown Point. On that day, Andrew Pappas was driving to work while Danny Sims allegedly was heading home from a bar after having consumed several alcoholic drinks. Sims' vehicle collided head-on with Pappas vehicle.
Court documents indicate that Sims had a blood alcohol level of .18 percent, twice the legal limit. It also noted that Sims refused a breath test at the scene but instead the police officer went with him to the hospital where a blood test was done. Sims was arrested and pleaded guilty to drunk driving.
On June 13, 2013, Pappas filed a lawsuit against Sims where he made claims of negligence, gross negligence and recklessness among others. Pappas’ wife also joined the lawsuit claiming a loss of consortium.
During a pre-trial discovery, the plaintiffs brought up former situations where Sims was involved in similar intoxicated incidents. Sims filed a pre-trial motion in limine to exclude some items of evidence. Some of the request was granted, some denied and the court also withheld its ruling until trial in part.
A jury trial began on June 29, 2015, where, in his opening statement, Sims admitted he was to blame for the collision and that he was drunk at the time.
“During his case-in-chief Pappas moved to introduce into evidence Sims’ Bureau of Motor Vehicles driving record through the testimony of the investigating police officer. Sims objected arguing among other things the document was ‘more prejudicial than probative,’” court documents stated.
“After entertaining extended arguments on both sides, and not specifically responding to Sims’ prejudice/probative contention, the trial court overruled the objection on grounds that Sims had admitted the violation contained in the BMV record in response to the request for admissions.”
The jury awarded the Pappas about $2 million; $1.4 for compensatory damages, $375,500 for the loss of consortium claim as well as punitive damages of $182,500.
Sims appealed, claiming that the prior criminal convictions were admitted to the court improperly, the jury’s awards were excessive.
The appeals court agreed and overturned the trial court’s decision.
“In so doing the court concluded Sims’ prior alcohol-related convictions in 1983 and 1996 'neither proved nor disproved any facts that were central to the main questions the jury decided—a compensatory damages and loss of consortium,'” according to court documents.
In its written decision dated May 11, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld the ruling of the trial court.