Legal Memorandum: Punitive Damages for Intentional or Reckless Conduct

Issue: Under the laws of the U.S. Virgin Islands, when arguing a motion for summary judgment on punitive damages, how beneficial are cases dealing with intentional or reckless conduct?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Intentional or reckless conduct; Punitive damages
Jurisdiction: Federal, Virgin Islands
Cited Cases: 33 F.3d 303; 22 F.3d 1296; 717 F.2d 828; 132 F.3d 902
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 cmt. f
Date: 11/01/2006

The following cases deal with the intentional conduct or reckless conduct in the context of a bankruptcy proceeding, Conte v. Gautam, 33 F.3d 303 (3d Cir. 1994), and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 cases, Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902 (3d Cir. 1997); Fagan v. City of Vineland, 22 F.3d 1296 (3d Cir. 1994), as well as whether punitive damages awarded in strict liability against a motorcycle manufacturer were justified, Acosta v. Honda Motor Co., 717 F.2d 828 (3d Cir. 1983).

These cases tend to support the argument that recklessness is not the equivalent of intentional conduct.  In Fagan, the court observed,

“While an act to be reckless must be intended by the actor, the actor does not intend to cause the harm which results from it.”  But harm results nonetheless because of the actor’s reckless disregard of the risk.  Accordingly, the common law allows punitive damages to be imposed on a reckless defendant.

Id., 22 F.3d at 1324 (citation omitted) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500 cmt. f).  The Morse court, referencing the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 500, noted the distinction between willful indifference and intent: “Thus the term ‘willful’ indifference is somewhat misleading, requiring not an intent to harm, but a failure to act appropriately in light of a known or obvious risk.”  Id. at 190 n.10.  And in Conte the court stated, that an act is reckless if “‘[the actor] realizes or, […]

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