Punitive Damages in Pennsylvania Awarded in Personal Injury Claims for Outrageous or Willful Conduct
Pennsylvania injury law provides for punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit when the defendant’s conduct is “outrageous.” Determining whether conduct is outrageous requires a careful analysis. Additionally, the plaintiff in the personal injury claim should set forth material facts in their complaint that support allegations of willful or oppressive conduct. This requires showing that the defendant realized the possibility that harm would result from his actions, or he was aware it was substantially certain to take place.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has assessed the conduct necessary to demonstrate punitive damages, particularly as it regards the concept of reckless indifference to the rights of others. In Martin v. Johns-Manville Corp., the Court relied on the Restatement Second of Torts, Section 908(2). Particularly, the court stated that a defendant’s mental state must rise above gross negligence, such that their outrageous conduct is accompanied by a reckless indifference to the interests of other people.
According to the Court in Martin, reckless conduct requires that an individual make a conscious choice of a course of action. They must know of the serious danger posed to others. By defining “outrageous conduct” as reckless indifference, the Court intended it to require that an individual have decided to bring about the result or be aware it was substantially certain to occur.
Since the mental state of the defendant is an essential aspect of recovering an award of punitive damages, a victim plaintiff must assert that the defendant intended harm or was indifferent to the potential of causing extreme harm. An example might include a drunk driving vehicle collision that resulted in catastrophic harm. If the defendant driver’s conduct, including ingesting high amounts of alcohol and choosing to operate a vehicle, is shown to have been outrageous, and it resulted in significant permanent injuries or death, the victim or their family may have a strong claim for punitive damages.
In addition to personal injury claims following vehicle collisions, other accidents and circumstances may support an allegation of outrageous conduct and an award of punitive damages. For example, an injured individual pursuing a claim against a dog owner for dog bites suffered when the owner allowed his dog to attack may allege that the owner had the requisite mental state to support an award of punitive damages. If the owner willfully allowed his dog to bite, or he was indifferent to the potential that his dog could cause extreme harm, punitive damages may be appropriate.
Dedicated Pennsylvania personal injury lawyers can help assess the potential punitive damages that may be awarded in a personal injury case. If you or a loved one has been hurt as a result of another person’s negligence, our dedicated attorneys can help. At Needle Law Firm, our legal team has a proven record of helping many clients recover compensation for their injuries. To schedule a free consultation and speak with an experienced Pennsylvania injury lawyer, call today at (570) 344-1266.