Maryland Trial Courts Generally
Statute of Limitations
Selected Immunities
Selected Theories of Liability
Children: Claims, Liabilities and Related Issues
Compensatory Damages for Bodily Injury
Punitive Damages
Survival Actions and
Wrongful Death Actions
Maryland Uniform Contribution Among Joint Tortfeasors Act


Law Summary


  1. Generally:

    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:

    1. Punitive damages are available only in tort actions. Middle States v. Thomas, 340 Md. 699, 668 A.2d 5 (1995).

    2. 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).

    3. 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.

    4. 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).

    5. 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).

    6. 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).

    7. 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).

    8. 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 life."

    9. There is no statutory cap on an award of punitive damages. Bowden v. Caldor, 350 Md. 4, 710 A.2d 267 (1998).

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