Punitive Damages in Accident Cases in Maryland

Maryland accident lawyers complain very little about not having punitive damages for accident lawsuits in Maryland. Why? I think it is just because we are so used to it in 2020, no one really imagines a punitive damages world for car crash cases.

While all roads lead to Rome, let’s talk about punitive damages generally and Maryland car accident cases and employment law cases.

What Is the Leading Maryland Case on Punitive Damages?

In Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia, 325 Md. 420, 601 A.2d 633 (1992), the Maryland Court of Appeals redefined the standard for awarding punitive damages. The court “implied malice” was not enough to support a punitive damages award. The court ruled that punitive damages may not be awarded unless the defendant’s conduct was found to the characterized by evil motive, intent to injure, ill will, or fraud.  This actual malice standard is a departure from many statutes that allow an award of punitive damages for implied malice.

The court’s ruling on punitive damages in Zenobia’s was specifically limited to non-intentional torts. But the court quickly expanded this theory, finding that the holding in Zenobia should govern intentional torts as well.

Can a Maryland Employee Receive a Punitive Damage Award Against Her Employer?

In Embrey v. Holly, 293 Md. 128, 442 A.2d 966 (1982), the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a punitive damage award against an employer.  The court ruled that the “tortious act of the servant done in the course of his employment is ordinarily the legal act of the master, and in this sense, the employer is not free of ‘fault.”’ omitted).  This opinion has not been disturbed by Zenobia or any subsequent case or statute. 

What Is the Purpose of Punitive Damages in Maryland?

The Court of Appeals has stated that the “purpose of punitive damages is… to punish the defendant for egregiously bad conduct toward the plaintiff, [and] also to deter the defendant and others contemplating similar behavior.” Owens-Corning v. Garrett, 343 Md. 500, 537-538 (1996).

What Is the Burden of Proof for Punitive Damages in Maryland?

Punitive damages may only be awarded if the plaintiff can demonstrate with clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant acted with actual malace. Le Marc’s Mgmt. Corp. v. Valentin, 349 Md. 645, 653 (1998).

Can You Get Punitive Damage Against a Drunk Driver in Maryland?

Under Maryland law, you cannot get punitive damages against a drunk driver who causes a car accident. Is this unjust? Of course it is. So in 2016, back when Jamie Raskin was a state senator (he is now a congressman), he sponsored a bill to allow for punitive damages against drunk drivers. The Maryland Senate easily passed the bill on a 43-1 vote. But, underscoring what a mess we have in Annapolis, the bill never reached a full vote in the Maryland House of Delegates.