IX. PUNITIVE DAMAGES
Awards of punitive damages have been closely scrutinized in Maryland and have been the subject of numerous appellate
decisions. Those decisions have established the following principles:
- Punitive damages are available only in tort actions. Middle States v. Thomas,
340 Md. 699, 668 A.2d 5 (1995).
- In order to trigger a claim for punitive damages, the plaintiff's complaint must
set forth a specific claim for punitive damages supported by a statement of facts that, if proven, would
entitle the plaintiff to such an award. Scott v. Jenkins, 345 Md. 21, 690 A.2d 1000 (1997).
- An award of punitive damages can be based on nothing less than actual malice,
"in the sense of conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, evil or wrongful motive, intent to injure, ill will or
fraud." Scott v. Jenkins, 345 Md. 21, 690 A.2d 1000 (1997). Tierco Maryland, Inc. v. Williams, 381
Md. 378, 849 A.2d 504 (2004); Garcia v. Foulger Pratt, 155 Md. App. 634, 845 A.2d 16 (2003). This rule
applies to both intentional and non-intentional torts. Id.
- The requirement of actual malice necessarily negates any suggestion that an award
of punitive damages may be based on any theory of implied malice either in the form of gross negligence
or in the form of an inference of malice drawn from an element of the tort. Darcars v. Borzym, 150 Md.
18, 818 A.2d 1159 (2003); Adams v. Coates, 331 Md. 1, 626 A.2d 36 (1993).
- A plaintiff's entitlement to punitive damages must be established by clear and
convincing evidence. Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia, 325 Md. 420, 601 A.2d 633 (1992); Garcia v. Foulger Pratt,
155 Md. App. 634, 845 A.2d 16 (2003).
- The plaintiff may not recover punitive damages for a tort unless there has been an
award of compensatory damages. Caldor v. Bowden, 330 Md. 632, 625 A.2d 959 (1993).
- A plaintiff has no right or entitlement to punitive damages under Maryland law so
the trier of fact has the discretion to deny such an award even if the record supports such an award.
Philip Morris, Inc. v. Angeletti, 358 Md. 689, 752 A.2d 200 (2000).
- In an automobile negligence case, an award of punitive damages can only be
based upon a showing of actual malice as defined in Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia, i.e., an act characterized
by "evil motive, intent to injure, ill will or fraud." Komornik v. Sparks, 331 Md. 720, 629 A.2d 721
(1993). NOTE: Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia overruled an earlier decision, Smith v. Gray Concrete Pipe Co.,
267 Md. 149, 297 A.2d 721 (1972), which held that punitive damages could be awarded in an automobile negligence
case upon a showing that the defendant operated his motor vehicle with "a wanton or reckless disregard for human
- There is no statutory cap on an award of punitive damages. Bowden v. Caldor,
350 Md. 4, 710 A.2d 267 (1998).