§32.5 Punitive Damages Not Permitted in Cases Where Defendant Is Grossly Negligent
The Case: Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896 (Tenn. 1992).
The Basic Facts: Plaintiff, fired because he participated in jury duty, sued his employer for wrongful termination of employment. He obtained an award of compensatory and punitive damages.
The Bottom Line:
- "As stated earlier, Tennessee presently allows punitive damages in cases involving fraud, malice, gross negligence, oppression, evil motives, conscious indifference, and reckless conduct implying 'disregard 901 of social obligations.' See Inland Container, 529 S.W.2d at 45. Whatever this may have once meant, by contemporary standards it is both vague ('social obligations') and overbroad ('gross negligence'). We agree with those States that have refined their laws to restrict the awarding of punitive damages to cases involving only the most egregious of wrongs.Cf. Linthicum v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co., 150 Ariz. 326, 723 P.2d 675, 680 (1986) (conscious action of a reprehensible character); Tuttle v. Raymond, 494 A.2d 1353, 1361 (Me. 1985) ('malicious' commission of a tort). By thus restricting the availability of punitive damages, we seek to avoid 'dull[ing] the potentially keen edge of the doctrine as an effective deterrent of truly reprehensible conduct.' Tuttle, 494 A.2d at 1361. In Tennessee, therefore, a court may henceforth award punitive damages only if it finds a defendant has acted either (1) intentionally, (2) fraudulently, (3) maliciously, or (4) recklessly. " 833 S.W.2d at 900-01 (emphasis added).