Commentary - Punitive Damages
Because of the Whiten v. Pilot Insurance and
subsequent cases, there has been much discussion and writing about
The Court of Appeal has recently reaffirmed that two
requirements have to be met before a consideration of punitive damages
In Marshall v. Watson Wyatt & Co., the
plaintiff brought an action for wrongful dismissal. At trial, damages
alone were an issue. The case was tried before a jury and it found
that the plaintiff was entitled to compensation and also awarded
punitive damages of $75,000.00. The defendant appealed.
The Court of Appeal set aside the award of punitive
damages. The plaintiff had not shown that the defendant's conduct
was exceptionally harsh, vindictive, reprehensible or malicious.
In addition, the plaintiff had not established that
the defendant committed a separate or independent actionable wrong
that caused damage to the plaintiff.
The trial judge also had not instructed the jury to
consider whether or not the compensatory damages awarded were in
some way insufficient to express repugnance at the defendant's conduct
and to punish and to deter.
In the end result, the failure of the defendant to
pay commission revenue acknowledged to be owing was not an actionable
wrong separate from the plaintiff's wrongful dismissal.
The Court noted that an award of punitive damages
generally should serve some rational purpose. In this particular
case, the Court commented that the jury's award of punitive damage
served no rational purpose.
It is suggested that notwithstanding the controversy
and considerable discussion about punitive damages, our Courts are
not about to let awards for punitive damages run rampant and will
carefully scrutinize both the principles behind such awards as set
out above as well as the monetary amount of any such awards.
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