Legal Memorandum: Plaintiff's Entitlement to Punitive Damages

Issue: Under the law of the U.S. Virgin Islands, may a court grant a motion for summary judgment where the outstanding issue concerns whether or not the plaintiff is entitled to punitive damages?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Summary judgment; Punitive damages
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 738 F. Supp. 923; 43 F.3d 823; 740 F.2d 230; 104 F.3d 547
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (1); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 909
Date: 11/01/2004

Punitive damages are warranted when the defendant has acted intentionally, deliberately or willfully, or has violated the plaintiff’s trust in an egregious manner, and the defendant’s behavior has the character of outrage.  Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908 (1979); Cover v. Island Cars, 18 V.I. 156, 163 (Terr. Ct. 1982) (assessing punitive damages against the defendant); Accord Guardian Ins. Co. v. Joseph, 31 V.I. 145, 151 (D.V.I. 1994); Perez v. Weigers, 25 V.I. 379, 382 (D.V.I. 1990). 

Under § 908 of the Restatement of Torts, punitive damages are awarded to punish the defendant for his or her outrageous conduct and to deter such conduct in the future.  Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(1).  “Punitive damages may be awarded for conduct that is outrageous, because of the defendant’s evil motive or his reckless indifference to the rights of others.”  Id., § 908(2).  Punitive damages also may be justified based on evidence that the defendant acted with reckless indifference to the rights of others and conscious[ly] [acted] in deliberate disregard of them.”  Id., § 908, cmt. b.  To recover punitive damages, the plaintiff must prove the existence of the defendant’s outrageous conduct done with evil motive or outrageous indifference to the plaintiff’s rights.  Guardian Ins., 31 V.I. at 151.  Under § 908, the plaintiff must show that the defendant’s conduct was malicious, intentional or reckless. Donaldson v. Bernstein, 104 F.3d 547 (3d Cir. 1997).  See Smith v. Southland Corp., 738 F. Supp. 923, 924 (E.D. Pa. 1990) (summary judgment on the […]

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