Earlier this month, a federal appellate court issued a written opinion in a premises liability case that reversed a lower court’s determination that the plaintiff was not entitled to punitive damages as a matter of law. The court concluded that, given the facts presented in the plaintiff’s claim, a jury – rather than the judge – should determine whether punitive damages are appropriate.
Punitive Damages Generally
Unlike other types of damages that are designed to return the plaintiff to the position in which they were before being involved in an accident, punitive damages are designed to punish a defendant’s undesirable behavior. Additionally, punitive damages are used by courts to deter other would-be defendants from engaging in the type of conduct that may give rise to this type of award.
A Shower Door Explodes, Injuring a Guest
In the recent case mentioned above, the plaintiff was a woman who was a guest at the defendant hotel. During her stay, the plaintiff was exiting the shower when the shower door “exploded,” causing the broken glass from the door to severely cut her body.
After the incident, a hotel engineer arrived to determine what had occurred. He explained to the plaintiff that the shower door had come off its tracks, causing it to slam against the wall when opened. He explained that this had happened in other rooms in the hotel, and this specific room should have been on the “do not sell” list.
The plaintiff filed a premises liability lawsuit against the hotel chain. The plaintiff’s attorneys uncovered evidence that the shower doors in other rooms had this same problem and also that the shower door in the plaintiff’s room had previously been replaced after a similar incident.
The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages. The trial court, however, determined that the plaintiff was not eligible for punitive damages. The judge explained that in order for punitive damages to be appropriate, there must be some heightened level of recklessness or intentional conduct on the part of the defendant.
On appeal, the court reversed the lower judge’s ruling. The court explained that under state law, punitive damages can be appropriate when the defendant acts with a “wanton disregard for the rights of others.” Given the facts presented, the court determined that reasonable jurors may find that the hotel chain knew of the danger with the shower door but rented it to the plaintiff anyway. That being the case, the plaintiff should be allowed to present her claim for punitive damages to a jury.
Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Slip-and-Fall Accident?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured while on the property of another party, and you believe that your injury was due to the landowner’s or business owner’s negligence, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a premises liability or product liability lawsuit. You may be surprised at the level of care business owners must take to maintain their facilities in a safe condition. Even if you are unsure about your claim, reach out to an attorney at The Schupak Law Firm to schedule a free case evaluation. There is no cost or risk in calling. Call today at 703-491-7070 to set up a free consultation.
See More Blog Posts:
Virginia Municipalities Are Responsible for Maintaining Safe Roadways, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 23, 2017.
Summary Judgment in Virginia Personal Injury Cases, Virginia Injury Lawyers Blog, January 3, 2017.