from the Lake Superior Court, No. 45D05-1306-CT-107 The
Honorable William E. Davis, Judge
Petition To Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
Attorneys for Appellant Thomas E. Rosta Tammy J. Meyer
Metzger Rosta, LLP Noblesville, Indiana
Attorney for Amicus Curiae Defense Trial Counsel of Indiana
Donald B. Kite, Sr. Wuertz Law Office, LLC Indianapolis,
Attorneys for Appellees Adam J. Sedia Michael E. Polen, Jr.
Rubino, Ruman, Crosmer & Polen Dyer, Indiana
Attorney for Amicus Curiae Indiana Trial Lawyers Association
Richard A. Cook Yosha Cook & Tisch Indianapolis, Indiana
personal injury case arising out of an automobile collision
we explore among other things whether and under what
circumstances a drunk driver's prior alcohol-related
driving convictions can be introduced into evidence.
and Procedural History
17, 2013, Andrew Pappas was driving to work in Crown Point,
Indiana, when his car collided head-on with a car driven by
Danny Sims. In consequence Pappas sustained serious injuries
which we discuss later in this opinion. At this point,
suffice it to say Sims was driving home from a bar where he
had become intoxicated after drinking several alcoholic
beverages. Sims' blood alcohol content was .18%, which
was over twice the legal limit of .08%. Sims was arrested
and ultimately pleaded guilty to operating a vehicle while
intoxicated as a class C misdemeanor.
filed a complaint against Sims on June 13, 2013. The
complaint asserted theories of negligence, gross negligence,
recklessness, and willful and wanton misconduct. Pappas'
wife Melissa joined the complaint on a loss of consortium
pre-trial discovery, and responding to requests for
admissions, Sims admitted "that at the time of the
crash, [he was] operating [his] vehicle while
intoxicated." Appellant's App. at 43. When asked to
admit or deny that "in 1996, you failed a chemical test
and as a result entered in to a Stipulated Plea Agreement
wherein you plead guilty to Reckless Driving, " and
"in 1983, your driver's license was suspended for
Operating While Intoxicated and Leaving the Scene of the
Accident-Injury/Death/Entrapment, " Sims objected on
grounds of relevance but noted, "[w]ithout waving said
objection, Defendant responds: Admit." Appellant's
App. at 45. Also, Sims filed a pre-trial motion in limine
seeking to exclude various items of evidence. The trial court
granted the motion in part, denied it in part, and withheld
ruling until trial in part, including on those portions of
the motion seeking to exclude evidence that "Sims may
have been involved in prior or subsequent automobile
accidents"; evidence of "Sims's driving
record"; and "[e]vidence of Defendant's
financial status." See Appellant's App. at
trial began June 29, 2015. In his opening statement, Sims
admitted that he was "at fault" for the collision
and that he was intoxicated at the time. Tr. at 47. 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." Tr. at 98. 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 requests for admissions.
close of trial the jury returned a verdict for Pappas in the
amount $1, 444, 000.00 for compensatory damages and returned
a verdict for his wife Melissa in the amount of $373, 500.00
for her loss of consortium claim. The jury also awarded
Pappas punitive damages in the amount of $182, 500.00 for a
total award of two million dollars. Sims filed a written
"Motion Objecting to Entry of Judgment on the Jury's
Verdict, " contending: (1) the evidence regarding his
prior convictions was improperly admitted; (2) the award of
punitive damages is excessive and constitutes a violation of
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and (3)
the verdict is unsupported by the evidence and is excessive.
App. at 21. After taking the matter under advisement the
trial court treated the objection as a Motion To Correct
Error. It then denied the motion and entered judgment on the
appealed raising the following restated claims: (1) the trial
court improperly admitted evidence of Sims' prior
criminal convictions; (2) the jury's award of
compensatory damages is excessive and unsupported by the
evidence; and (3) the jury's award of punitive damages is
excessive and unsupported by the evidence.
divided opinion the Court of Appeals found the first claim
dispositive, reversed the trial court's judgment, and
remanded this cause for retrial. 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." Sims
v. Pappas, 61 N.E.3d 1285, 1286 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016).
Having previously granted transfer we now affirm the judgment
of the trial court. Additional facts are set forth below.
Court generally reviews "a trial court's ruling on a
motion to correct error for an abuse of discretion."
Santelli v. Rahmatullah, 993 N.E.2d 167, 173 (Ind.
2013). Further, a trial court is afforded broad discretion in
ruling on the admissibility of evidence. Turner v.
State, 953 N.E.2d 1039, 1045 (Ind. 2011). We will
disturb the trial court's ruling only where the
challenger shows the trial court has abused that discretion.
Id. "An abuse of discretion occurs when the
trial court's decision is clearly against the logic and
effect of the facts and circumstances before it."
Relevance of Prior ...