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3.4-4  Damages - Punitive

Revised to January 1, 2008

In addition to seeking compensatory damages, the plaintiff seeks an award of punitive damages.  Punitive damages are damages awarded not to compensate the plaintiff for any injury or losses but to punish the defendant for outrageous conduct and to deter (him/her) and others like (him/her) from similar conduct in the future.  Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant's reckless indifference to the rights of others or an intentional and wanton violation of those rights.  You may award punitive damages only if you unanimously find, from facts established by a preponderance of the evidence, that the conduct of the defendant was, in fact, outrageous.

The law does not require you to award punitive damages.  It is, instead, a matter for your sound discretion.  An award of punitive damages must not reflect bias, prejudice or sympathy with respect to any party.  It must instead be fairly based on the evidence in the case.

There is no exact standard for fixing the amount of punitive damages.  The amount awarded, if any, should be the amount you unanimously find necessary for achieving the objectives of punitive damages that I have described.  You should consider the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant's misconduct and the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff.

Authority

Votto v. American Car Rental, Inc., 273 Conn. 478, 485-86 (2005); Gaudio v. Griffin Health Services Corp., 249 Conn. 523, 551 (1999); Ames v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 8 Conn. App. 642, 655, cert. denied, 201 Conn. 809 (1986); Wedig v. Brinster, 1 Conn. App. 123, 134 (1983), cert. denied, 192 Conn. 803 (1984).

Punitive damage awards are subject to constitutional limitation.  State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 418, 123 S. Ct. 1513, 155 L. Ed. 2d 585 (2003).  Appropriate instructional language, from the standpoint of federal constitutional law, is discussed in Pacific Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 19, 111 S. Ct. 1032, 113 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1991).  See Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 54-55, 103 S. Ct. 1625, 75 L. Ed. 2d 632 (1983); Hilao v. Estate of Marcos, 103 F.3d 767, 781 n.7 (9th Cir. 1996).  Connecticut law concerning punitive damages in a statutory context is summarized in Votto v. American Car Rental, Inc., supra, 273 Conn. 486.  Helpful language is contained in 4 Restatement (Second), Torts § 908 (1979).

Notes

The charge above is appropriate for use in the trial of some statutory causes of action, such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 

Please note that the state legislature's authorization of punitive damage awards "fall into three categories:  (1) those that limit the amount of the award to no more than two times the actual damages incurred; (2) those that designate a specific, albeit modest, dollar limit for such awards; and (3) those that authorize punitive damages, but leave the amount of the award to the discretion of the court [such as CUTPA]."  MedValUSA Health Programs, Inc. v. MemberWorks, Inc., 273 Conn. 634, 672, cert. denied sub nom. Vertrue, Inc. v. MedValUSA Health Programs, Inc., 546 U.S. 960, 126 S. Ct. 479, 163 L. Ed. 2d 363 (2005).

With respect to common-law causes of action, the final paragraph of the suggested charge should be replaced by the following language:  "Punitive damages are limited to the costs of litigation, including attorney's fees, less taxable costs.  Within that limitation, the extent to which they are awarded is within your sole discretion." Label Systems Corp. v. Aghamohammadi, 270 Conn. 291, 335 (2004).  Under Smith v. Snyder, 267 Conn. 456, 471 (2004), "there is an undisputed requirement that the reasonableness of attorney's fees and costs must be proven by an appropriate evidentiary showing." (Emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.)

With respect to common-law causes of action, it may be prudent to have the jury find whether an award of punitive damages is appropriate and to have the court subsequently determine the amount of such award.

In cases involving multiple causes of action, the court should specifically refer to the count providing the basis for the punitive damages claim in question.  The jury should be directed to consider only the conduct alleged and proved with respect to that count as the basis for the requisite finding of outrageousness and any resulting award of punitive damages.

The Second Restatement of Torts permits the trier of fact to consider, inter alia, "the wealth of the defendant" in assessing the amount of punitive damages.  4 Restatement (Second), Torts § 908 (2) (1979).  The "wealth" factor has no discovered basis in Connecticut common law, although it may be relevant to the assessment of certain statutory penalties.  See Ventres v. Goodpeed Airport, LLC, 275 Conn. 105, 149 n.39 (2005), cert. denied, 126 S. Ct. 1913 (2006); Carothers v. Capozziello, 215 Conn. 82, 103-104 (1990) (listing factors to be considered in imposing civil penalty pursuant to General Statutes § 22a-226a).  State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell, supra, 538 U.S. 427-28, permits the use of the "wealth" factor but views it with some skepticism.  The use of this factor in Connecticut common-law charges is not recommended.
 


 

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