South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Punitive Damages Not Allowed Against Dead Tortfeasor

Indiana high court held that under state law, the estate of a person who committed a tort may not be sued for punitive damages. Punitive damages are to punish the wrongdoer; that cannot occur if the tortfeasor is dead.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Punitive Damages; Insurance

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Alicia and Jacelyn Crabtree were injured when they were riding with their drunken father who caused an accident, injuring the girls. Their medical expenses of about $3,500 each were covered by Allstate, the insurer of the vehicle. A year later, the father died. The girls sued his estate for compensatory and punitive damages for the injuries they suffered in the accident. The jury awarded the girls $11,500 each, less the medical payments received. The trial judge held that there could be no punitive damages. The court of appeals held that there could be punitive damages against the estate. That ruling was appealed.


Reversed. The decision of the trial court is affirmed. The plaintiffs are not entitled to punitive damages from their father's estate. Indiana law does not permit recovery of punitive damages from the estate of a deceased tortfeasor. Punitive damages serve to punish the tortfeasor and deter others from such behavior. Since the person who committed the tort is dead, no punishment by the award of punitive damages would be possible.


Crabtree v. Estate of Crabtree, 837 N.E.2d 135 (Sup. Ct., Ind., 2005)

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