An award of punitive damages is justified only where the evidence indicates that the defendant acted wantonly in causing the injury or with such a conscious indifference to the consequences that malice may be inferred.Wantonness is essentially an attitude of mind and imparts to an act of misconduct a tortious character, such conduct as manifests a "disposition of perversity." Such a disposition or mental state is shown by a person, when, notwithstanding his conscious and timely knowledge of an approach to an unusual danger and of common probability of injury to others, he proceeds into the presence of danger, with indifference to consequences and with absence of all care. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant deliberately intended to injure the plaintiff. It is enough if it is shown that, indifferent to consequences, the defendant intentionally acted in such a way that the natural and probable consequence of his act was injury to the plaintiff.
One of the corporation's drivers struck two bystanders, another tractor-trailer, and a house being transported on a trailer rig. The bystanders' estates filed wrongful death actions against the house movers and the corporation. A jury award punitive damages against the corporation.
Were the house movers entitled to punitive damages?
The court found that the corporation's driver had received six citations in the previous year for driving an overweight truck, that the corporation had not disciplined the driver for driving overweight trucks, and that the driver was 25 miles over the speed limit when he struck the bystanders, the house movers' rig, and the house. The court determined that there was no evidence that the corporation was aware that the brakes on the truck were faulty. The court also found that there was a finding of gross negligence in the instant case. However, the court ruled that gross negligence was not sufficient to justify punitive damages.