Assault and battery will support an award of punitive damages whenever there is averment and proof tending to show that the act charged was wrongful and attended with an insult or other circumstances of aggravation. Particularized circumstances of aggravation or insult must appear in cases of assault and battery if punitive damages are to be properly awarded.
During an emergency medical procedure on a patient, the doctor struck the nurse on the forearm and demanded that she turn on the suction. No physical injury of any kind resulted from this striking. The jury awarded $ 10,000 in punitive damages and $ 1 in compensatory damages. The trial court denied the doctor's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, his motion for new trial, and his motion to alter or amend the judgment.
Did the district court err in their judgment against the doctor based on a jury verdict that assessed punitive damages in an assault and battery case filed by the nurse?
The court held that particularized circumstances of aggravation or insult had to appear in cases of assault and battery if punitive damages were to be awarded. While telling the nurse to turn on the suction was arguably not an "insult" to the nurse, the statement did present at least a scintilla of evidence that "aggravating circumstances" in the form of angry or intimidating behavior accompanied the assault and battery. The excessiveness of the punitive damages award was not subject to review because the doctor failed to raise the issue before the trial court.