Romero v. Mervyn's

1989-NMSC-081, 784 P.2d 992

 

RULE:

In contract cases not involving insurance, punitive damages may be recovered for breach of contract when the defendant's conduct was malicious, fraudulent, oppressive, or committed recklessly with a wanton disregard for the plaintiff's rights.

FACTS:

The customer and two of her adult daughters were shopping in the store. It was the day after Thanksgiving and the store was crowded with Christmas shoppers. Another customer either intentionally or accidentally pushed the customer. She fell to her hands and knees, hitting her jaw as she fell. The store manager promised to pay the customer's medical bills, but the store refused to pay. The customer filed a case for compensatory and punitive damages. A jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages for breach or contract and the case was appealed.

ISSUE:

Was the trial court's award proper?

ANSWER:

Yes

CONCLUSION:

The court held that the manager had apparent authority to promise to pay the customer's bills. The court further held that in contract cases not involving insurance, punitive damages could be recovered for breach of contract when the defendant's conduct was malicious, fraudulent, oppressive, or committed recklessly with a wanton disregard for the plaintiff's rights. The court held that the jury could have inferred knowledge on the store manager's part that his employer would not honor the contract with the customer and, thus, that he acted with malice.

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