Weinberger v. Estate of Barnes, et al. (12-18-13)
IN CoA (Friedlander; Baker & Vaidik concur)
In this case, a punitive damages verdict was entered against Defendant. The case was subsequently settled but the Indiana Attorney General intervened and opposed the dismissal of the case, using its stake in the punitive damages component as leverage.
In holding that the Attorney General could not intervene or forestall the settlement, the Court of Appeals stated that the State’s interest was limited to the 75% of the funds paid into the clerk’s office on the punitive damages judgment. Essentially, the State had no right to interfere with the settlement of the case and should never have been invited to the table, so to speak, in the first place. Even if there is collusion between the underlying parties to settle for an amount in excess of the compensatory judgment (which was not the case here), the Court noted the State still would not have an interest since the statute is aimed at reining in punitive damage judgments and not at providing a source of revenue for the State.
What does it mean? Any and all Plaintiffs with potential punitive damage claims have one less deterrent from seeking such an award from the jury.
(Disclaimer: I was personally involved with this case for nearly two years so if any personal bias becomes apparent, that is why.)