Punitive / Exemplary Damages in New York

What Are Punitive / Exemplary Damages?


Punitive damages are “intended as punishment for gross misbehavior for the good of the public and have been referred to as a sort of hybrid between a display of ethical indignation and the imposition of a criminal fine.” (Home Ins. Co. v. Am. Home Produs. Corp. (1990) 75 N.Y.2d 196, 203.)

“[P]unitive damages are available to vindicate a public right only where the actions of the alleged tortfeasor constitute either gross recklessness or intentional, wanton, or malicious conduct aimed at the public generally, or were activated by evil or reprehensible motives.” (Boykin v. Mora (2000) 274 A.D.2d 441, 442.)

Whereas compensatory damages are intended to assure that the victim receives “fair and just compensation commensurate with the injury sustained,” punitive damages are meant to “punish the tortfeasor and to deter this wrongdoer and others similarly situated from indulging in the same conduct in the future.” (Greshman v. Ahmad (2017) 156 A.D.3d 868, 869.)

How to Structure the Motion

A claim for compensatory damages precedes one for punitive damages. (Rocanova v. Equitable Life Assurance Soc’y of the U.S. (1994) N.Y.2d 603, 616-617.)

“Something more than the mere commission of a tort is always required for punitive damages.” (Liberman v. Riverside Mem. Chapel (1996) A.D.2d 283, 291.) “The degree of misconduct necessary to warrant and uphold the allowance of punitive damages has been defined in varying language, but all definitions involve the idea of the intentional, wanton, willful, or malicious commission of some illegal act, or of such a perverse and obstinate failure to discharge a duty as warrants the presumption of a reckless indifference to the rights of others which is equivalent to intentional misconduct.” (36 N.Y. Jur. Damages, § 175 [2003].)

An “award for punitive damages must be supported by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence.” (Camillo v. Greer (1992) 185 A.D.2d 192.) Punitive damages are only appropriate in those singularly rare cases where the plaintiff presented evidence of outrageous conduct by the defendant. (Matther of Eighth Jud. Dist. Asbestos Litig., 92 A.D.3d 1259 [4th Dept. 2012].) Such evidence must be clearly established and must be determined by the facts at the time the alleged tortious conduct occurred. (Ross v. Louise Wise Servs., Inc. (2007) 8 N.Y.3d 478.)

The Court’s Decision

As many courts have recognized, punitive damages are not necessary where compensatory damages also function to deter the tortious conduct. (Roginsky v. Richardson-Merrell, Inc. 378 F.2d 832, 841 [2d Cir. 1967].) Judicial preclusion of punitive damages is justified where such an award will not serve any proper purposes, but instead will harm other, even more fundamental interests, such as the compensation of injured parties and the protection of the defendants’ rights to due process. (BMW v. Gore (1996) U.S. 559, 568; Motorola Credit Corp. v. Uzan, 509 F.3d 74 [2d Cir. N.Y. 2007].)

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