Home Table of Contents

WPI348.02Civil Rights—Punitive Damages—Individual Defendant

6A WAPRAC WPI 348.02Washington Practice Series TMWashington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil

6A Wash. Prac., Wash. Pattern Jury Instr. Civ. WPI 348.02 (7th ed.)
Washington Practice Series TM
Washington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil
July 2019 Update
Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions
Part XVII. Civil Rights
Chapter 348. Civil Rights—Damages and Verdict Forms
WPI 348.02 Civil Rights—Punitive Damages—Individual Defendant
If you find for(name of plaintiff), and if you award compensatory or nominal damages, you may also award punitive damages. You are not required to do so. The purpose of punitive damages is not to compensate a plaintiff but rather to punish a defendant and to deter a defendant and others from committing similar acts in the future.
(Name of plaintiff)has the burden of proving that punitive damages should be awarded. You may award punitive damages only if you find that(name of defendant)'s conduct (1) was motivated by evil motive or intent, or (2) involved reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others.
(Name of plaintiff)also has the burden of proving the amount of punitive damages that should be awarded. If you find that punitive damages are appropriate, you must use reason in setting the amount. Punitive damages, if any, should be in an amount sufficient to fulfill the purposes stated above, but should not reflect bias, prejudice, or sympathy toward any party. The amount of any punitive damages should also bear a reasonable relationship to any injury or harm actually or potentially suffered by(name of plaintiff).
[Punitive damages may not be awarded against(fill in name(s) of any governmental entity or official capacity defendant).] [You may impose punitive damages against one or more of the defendants and not others, and may award different amounts against different defendants.]
NOTE ON USE
Use the first bracketed sentence if there is a municipal entity or defendant being sued in an official capacity, or if the court has ruled that punitive damages are not to be awarded against a particular defendant.
COMMENT
Punitive damages may be awarded against an individual defendant found guilty of federal civil rights violations when the jury finds that the defendant's behavior was driven by evil motive or intent or involved a reckless or callous indifference to constitutional rights. Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983). Punitive damages cannot be awarded against municipal defendants. City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 101 S.Ct. 2748, 69 L.Ed.2d 616 (1981).
Although Washington common law does not authorize punitive damages, punitive damages may nonetheless be awarded in Section 1983 cases involving Washington defendants, either in federal court, see Davis v. Mason County, 927 F.2d 1473 (9th Cir.1991), overruled on other grounds in Davis v. City of San Francisco, 976 F.2d 1536 (9th Cir. 1992), or in state court, Peterson v. Littlejohn, 56 Wn.App. 1, 781 P.2d 1329 (1989).
In Sintra, Inc. v. Seattle, 131 Wn.2d 640, 935 P.2d 555 (1997), a Section 1983 case, the Supreme Court approved of the trial court's instructions on punitive damages as appropriately focusing on the discretionary nature of such an award and the purposes to be served. Citing to Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip, 499 U.S. 1, 111 S.Ct. 1032, 113 L.Ed.2d 1 (1991), and Morgan v. Woessner, 997 F.2d 1244 (9th Cir. 1993), the court observed that such instructions “should be fashioned to describe the proper purposes of punitive damages, so that the jury understands punitive damages are not to compensate the plaintiff, but to punish the defendant and to deter the defendant and others from such conduct in the future.” Sintra, Inc. v. Seattle, 131 Wn.2d at 662.
There may be circumstances when the jury instruction concerning punitive damages must include a description of the concept of “oppressive” conduct—i.e., an act or omission that is unnecessarily harsh or severe and is a misuse or abuse of authority or power, or an act or omission that shows the defendant was taking advantage of a weakness, disability or misfortune of another person. In a specific case, such language may be necessary to fully inform the jury of the plaintiff's theory of punitive damages. See Dang v. Cross, 422 F.3d 800, 804–11 (9th Cir. 2005) (reversing the punitive damages verdict because the jury instruction did not include the plaintiff's proposed language concerning oppressive acts and omissions; the Ninth Circuit held that oppressiveness is a third category under Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983) and the jury instruction was incomplete as a matter of law).
The United States Supreme Court has addressed in depth the due process standards to be applied in post-verdict review of punitive damage awards. See Phillip Morris USA v. Williams, 549 U.S. 346, 127 S.Ct. 1057, 166 L.Ed.2d 940 (2007); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 123 S.Ct. 1513, 155 L.Ed.2d 585 (2003); Cooper Indus., Inc. v. Leatherman Tool Group, Inc., 532 U.S. 424, 121 S.Ct. 1678, 149 L.Ed.2d 674 (2001); BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 116 S.Ct. 1589, 134 L.Ed.2d 809 (1996).
These cases have steadfastly avoided the articulation of any “rigid benchmarks” for assessing punitive damages awards. They have, however, discussed various “guideposts” with which the practitioner should be familiar, not just for their relevance to the sustainability of an award but also for their implications as to the admissibility of evidence. One of those guideposts is “the disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 123 S.Ct. 1513, 155 L.Ed.2d 585 (2003). Accordingly, the WPI Committee deems it prudent to include a “reasonable relationship” factor in general terms, giving counsel latitude to argue its application. See the Comment to WPI 35.01 (Exemplary or Punitive Damages).
[Current as of September 2018.]
End of Document© 2019 Thomson Reuters. No claim to original U.S. Government Works.