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Klingbiel v. Commercial Credit Corp. - 439 F.2d 1303 (10th Cir. 1971)

Rule:

The law does not require a specific finding of an intentional and ruthless desire to injure, in order to sustain an award of punitive damages. The burden of proof is sustained once the injured party shows such gross neglect of duty as to evince a reckless indifference of the rights of others on the part of the wrongdoer and an entire want of care so as to raise the presumption that the person at fault is conscious of the probable consequences of his carelessness.

Facts:

Plaintiff Vern Klingbiel’s vehicle was repossessed without notice by Automobile Recovery Bureau, acting for Defendant Commercial Credit Corporation, Inc. Consequently, Klingbiel filed suit against Commercial for unlawful conversion. The jury found for Klingbiel and awarded actual and punitive damages. Thereafter, Commercial appealed and alleged that the trial court erred in instructing the jury to find for Klingbiel on the illegality of the repossession, in submitting to the jury the instruction on actual damages, and in submitting to the jury the issue of punitive damages. 

Issue:

In unlawful conversion suit by automobile purchaser against a creditor corporation following repossession without notice or default by plaintiff, did the trial court err in instructing the jury on the issue of actual and punitive damages? 

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The United States Court of Appeals affirmed the jury’s award of damages, finding no error in the trial court's instructions to jury. According to the Court, the repossession was illegal conversion because Commercial failed to give notice and demand prior to repossessing Klingbiel’s vehicle. The Court concluded that there was sufficient evidence to sustain punitive damages where Klingbiel was not in default and the personal property was never returned.

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