South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Finding of Negligence Does Not Support Award of Punitive Damages
Description Virginia high court held that to recover punitive damages in a tort case the defendant must have committed gross negligence, which is willful and wanton behavior that shows a conscious disregard of the rights of others.
Topic Torts
Key Words Negligence; Gross Negligence; Compensatory Damages; Punitive Damages
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Allen and Maureen Isaacs were both injured in an automobile accident caused by John Doe. Doe stopped, talked to the Isaacs. The Isaacs said he appeared to be intoxicated. Doe then got in his car and left the scene. Doe was convicted of a felony hit-and-run. At the civil trial, Doe admitted liability. The jury awarded the Isaacs $400,000 compensatory damages and $350,000 punitive damages. Doe appealed.
Decision

Reversed. Negligence which is so willful or wanton as to evince a conscious disregard of the rights of others, as well as malicious conduct, will support an award of punitive damages in a personal injury case. The intentional violation of a traffic law, without more, will not support a finding of willful and wanton or gross negligence. Doe’s behavior in causing the accident and leaving the scene of an injury accident was not so willful or wanton as to show a conscious disregard for the rights of others. That precludes the award of punitive damages.

Citation Doe v. Isaacs, 579 S.E.2d 174 (Sup. Ct., Va., 2003)

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