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Iowa Court of Appeals Upholds $127 Million Personal Injury Verdict


Most personal injury claims are the result of reckless or negligent behavior. But sometimes, personal injury cases are the result of criminal activity. While the criminal justice system focuses on punishing the offender and protecting the public at-large, a civil lawsuit provides victims with the ability to seek compensation directly from their attackers.

Defendant Ordered to Pay $75 Million in Punitive Damages After Raping Iowa Teenager

On January 23, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Gray v. Hohenshell, a personal injury case arising from a truly horrific incident that occurred in 2013. The female victim, who was 13 years old at the time, attended a party at a friend’s house. The defendant was the friend’s stepfather.

At some point during the evening, the defendant offered alcohol–including whiskey, vodka, and beer–to his stepdaughter and her friends, including the victim. Eventually, the victim became intoxicated. The defendant then picked the victim up and took her into his bedroom. The defendant then proceeded to rape the victim.

After the victim reported the rape, prosecutors charged the defendant in a 2014 criminal proceeding with “lascivious acts with a child” and illegally furnishing alcohol to minors. According to court records, at the hearing where the defendant pleaded guilty to these crimes, he chuckled and had a “smirk on his face.” A few months later, the victim’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the defendant.

The civil lawsuit contained a number of personal injury claims, including sexual assault, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, and negligent supervision. The defendant effectively conceded liability. This left a jury to decide the issue of damages.

After hearing all of the testimony and arguments, the jury awarded the victim compensatory damages of $50 million and punitive damages of $75 million. The jury also awarded each of the victim’s parents $1 million in damages for “loss of consortium,” bringing the total award to $127 million.

On appeal, the defendant maintained the verdict was excessive and the “result of passion or prejudice” on the part of the jury. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument and denied the defendant’s request for a new trial. The appeals court noted the efforts of the trial court and the attorneys for both sides to “select a jury that would not be swayed by passion or prejudice can be described as nothing less than meticulous.”

The appeals court further noted that “[v]aluing damages such as these is a nebulous task.” In effect, the jury had to compensate the victim for the loss of her innocence and what will likely be a lifetime of mental suffering. Given this, the Court of Appeals said it was “best to leave such a valuation to a jury.”

Speak with an Iowa Personal Injury Attorney Today

Even in cases where the victim’s injuries were the result of an accident rather than a criminal act, the negligent party must still be held accountable for their actions. If you, or a member of your family, need advice from an experienced Southeast Iowa personal injury lawyer, contact the Noyes Law Office, P.C., today.

Despite the impressive verdict, it is important to understand that insurance policies carve out exceptions in coverage for intentional acts.  Without any applicable insurance coverage, the only way to collect on the verdict is from the Defendant himself.  If Defendant is “judgement proof,” or poor, there is no way to collect what the jury has awarded.  Like the old adage, “You can’t get blood out of a turnip,” you cannot get any money from a defendant who has no money.


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