SW Legal studies in Business

Dead Defendant Cannot Be Sued for Punitive Damages
Description

North Carolina high court held that even if a drunk driver was responsible for injuries in a collision that killed him, since he was dead his estate could not be sued for punitive damages. Such damages are intended to punish a person for a wrongful act, which cannot apply to a dead defendant.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Punitive Damages; Deceased Defendant

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

Harrell was driving when a car driven by Perry, who was allegedly drunk, crossed the median, striking and injuring Harrell and killing Perry. Harrell sued Perry’s estate for Perry’s gross negligence, seeking damages for his injuries and also requested punitive damages. The trial court dismissed the punitive damages claim. The appeals court agreed with the dismissal. Harrell appealed.

Decision

Affirmed. The plaintiff is precluded as a matter of law from claiming punitive damages against the estate of the driver who allegedly caused the collision. Since the driver, Perry, is dead, he could no longer be punished for whatever wrongful acts he might have committed or deterred from committing similar wrongful acts, which are the purposes of punitive damages.

Citation

Harrell v. Bowen, 655 S.E.2d 350 (Sup. Ct., N.C., 2008)

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