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Chapter 16 Jury Instructions for Punitive Damages D.C. Car Accident Lawyer

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Date14 Apr 2021
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Jury Instructions Punitive Damages D.C. Auto Accident Attorney

In a civil case, there are three types of damages: compensatory, nominal, and punitive. 

In this post, we’ll be going over punitive damages. Punitive damages are not often awarded. They are ruled by Chapter 16 of the Washington D.C. Jury Instructions. 

Punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for his conduct, and to serve as an example to prevent others from acting in a similar way. 

The plaintiff must prove, with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted with “evil motive, actual malice, deliberate violence or oppression, or with intent to injure, or in willful disregard for the rights of the plaintiff” and that the “conduct itself was outrageous, grossly fraudulent, or reckless toward the safety of the plaintiff.” 

The jury is told they may award punitive damages against corporation if two conclusions are drawn: 

    1. The act was the sort that deserves punitive damages
    2. The plaintiff has shown that the officers, directors, or managing agents of the corporation participated, authorized, or approved the act before or after it was done

There is a higher standard of proof for punitive damages. It must be found that the actions were unlawful, partaking somewhat of a criminal or wanton nature and characterized by willfulness, wantonness and malice; the conduct must be clearly established. De Foe v. Potomac Electric Power Co., 123 A.2d 920 (D.C. 1956). 

The instructions end with how to calculate punitive damages. The jury must consider the relative wealth of the defendant, the nature of the wrong, and the state of mind of the defendant. The cost and duration should be included in computations as well as attorneys’ fees. The amount should be enough to punish the defendant for his conduct, and have the punishment serve as an example to prevent others from acting in a similar way. Jonathan Woodner Co. v. Breeden, 665 A.2d 929 (D.C. 1995).

Notable Punitive Damages Cases

Bullock v. Philip Morris 

jury instructions punitive damages dc personal injury lawyerIn the late 1990s and 2000s, several suits were brought against tobacco companies. Betty Bullock sued Philip Morris, a cigarette manufacturer, for negligence, product liability and fraud. Ms. Bullock, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 2001. The jury found Philip Morris to be negligent in its design of cigarettes, that it failed to adequately warn Bullock of the dangers of smoking, that it intentionally and negligently misrepresented material facts and made a false promise, that it “intentionally concealed material facts before July 1, 1969, and that each act was a cause of Bullock’s injury.” The jury awarded Bullock $850,000 in compensatory damages and $28 billion in punitive damages. The punitive damages award was later reduced to $28 million. Bullock v. Philip Morris, 42 Cal. Rptr. 3d 140 (Cal. Ct. App. 2006).

Anderson v. General Motors

Patricia Anderson, her four children, and her friend were driving home in their Chevrolet Malibu. They were rear-ended by a drunk driver on December 24, 1993. The gas tank exploded; the car burst into flames. Ms. Anderson and her friend escaped, but the children suffered severe burns. The suit claimed that the flames occurred because of flaws in the gas tank. The plaintiffs were awarded $4.9 billion, later reduced to $1.09 billion; $107 billion was awarded in compensatory damages for pain and suffering. The case settled in 1999, largely because of two GM memos that showed the company believed it would cost less to settle lawsuits than to make its cars safer. 

Anderson’s lawyers said they would accept the ruling, and would agree to a further reduction of damages if GM would recall all models similar to the car involved in the crash.

Robert Courtney

Robert Courtney was a pharmacist in Missouri. He was caught diluting several doses of chemotherapy drugs and pled guilty to diluting 98,000 prescriptions to more than 4,000 patients. He was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison. There were several suits against him; one suit settled for $225 billion in compensatory damages and $2.2 billion in punitive damages.

If you or a loved one has been injured due to negligence or wrongful conduct, the attorneys at Cohen & Cohen can help get you the compensation you deserve. Contact us today at (202) 955-4529 for a free case evaluation. 

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