Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Willful violation of the law is insufficient evidence of malice to support an award of punitive damages, if not accompanied by a showing of bad faith.
The driver, Michael Johnson, ran a stop sign and his car struck the car of the appellant, Sarah Bolsta. Appellant suffered permanent injuries. The driver was uninsured and was intoxicated at the time of the accident. He was also driving on a suspended driver's license, which was the result of a prior driving under the influence (DUI) conviction. The driver had three prior convictions for driving on a suspended license. As a result of the accident, the driver was charged with DUI. He pleaded no contest. A default judgment for compensatory damages was entered against the driver in the victim's civil action, but the trial court refused to grant punitive damages, finding no evidence of the requisite element of malice. On appeal, appellant asserted that the driver's repeated intentional violation of the law was evidence of malice, thereby warranting the grant of punitive damages.
Was the driver’s repeated violation of the law evidence of malice, which would warrant the grant of punitive damages in this case?
The court affirmed the trial court’s decision, holding that willful violation of the law was insufficient to show malice. While the driver's conduct could be characterized as negligent or even reckless, there were no special circumstances, such as personal ill will or bad motive, to support a finding of actual malice. Without such a finding, the trial court properly exercised its discretion in denying punitive damages.