Punitive Damages in Maryland: Reconciling Federal Law, State Law, and the Pattern Jury Instructions
University of Baltimore Law Forum, Vol. 38, No. 1, pp. 27-53, Fall 2007
28 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2009
Date Written: Fall 2007
Starting in the early 1990's, both the United States Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals of Maryland addressed the issue of jury discretion in awarding punitive damages. The two courts addressed the perceived problem in two different ways. The United States Supreme Court focused their attention mainly on the excessive amount of such awards. It held that the Due Process Clause regulates both the procedures used in awarding punitive damages and the amounts of such awards. The Court required that juries be given sufficient instructions to enable them to make awards based on the purpose of punitive damages, and required state trial judges and appellate courts to reduce the amount of such awards if they were “grossly excessive.” The Court provided state judges with guideposts for determining the appropriate amount of punitive damage awards and required that the amounts be proportionate to the amount of compensatory damages.
The Court of Appeals of Maryland focused its attention instead on the proof required for a jury to make a punitive damages award in the first place. It held that punitive damage awards could only be made if the defendant's conduct rose to the level of actual malice (evil motive or intent to do harm, or knowing that its actions would be harmful) and not just implied malice (gross negligence, recklessness, or should have known of the harm). In addition, the Court of Appeals of Maryland held that juries should be instructed that they must find that actual malice had been proved by “clear and convincing evidence,” and not just a preponderance of the evidence.
This article will suggest several changes to Maryland law and the Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, so that the instructions more accurately reflect Maryland law, and that Maryland law complies with the Due Process Clause. The proposed changes include: • providing a clearer standard in the instructions for when punitive damages should be awarded; • clarifying that the “clear and convincing” standard applies only to the finding of “actual malice” and not to the broader question of whether and in what amount to award punitive damages; • changing the law, the procedure and the jury instructions relating to whether and when a jury may consider evidence of the defendant's financial condition in calculating the amount of a punitive damage award; and • providing more guidance to juries as to the appropriate amount of punitive damage awards.
Keywords: punitive damages, jury discretion, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals of Maryland, Maryland Civil Pattern Jury Instructions, compensatory damages, Due Process Clause
JEL Classification: K13, K49
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation