(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants in this elder abuse/medical malpractice case and its proceedings.)
In Mock v. Mich. Millers Mut. Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 306, 328, an insurance bad faith case, the court said the following with regard to punitive damages:
Even before the 1987 amendments, the courts articulated a standard for the proof of malice where, as here, no intent to harm is claimed. Such malice “implies an act conceived in a spirit of mischief or with criminal indifference towards the obligations owed to others.” In Dean Prosser’s words: “Where the defendant’s wrongdoing has been intentional and deliberate, and has the character of outrage frequently associated with crime, all but a few courts have permitted the jury to award in the tort action punitive or exemplary damages …. Something more than the mere commission of a tort is always required for punitive damages. There must be circumstances of aggravation or outrage, such as spite or malice, or a fraudulent or evil motive on the part of the defendant, or such a conscious and deliberate disregard of the interests of others that his conduct may be called wilful or wanton.”
CACI 3540 defines despicable conduct as “… conduct that is so vile, base, or contemptible that it would be looked down on and despised by reasonable people.” Again, this also has to be shown by clear and convincing evidence.
For plaintiff to prevail there must be evidence that the defendants’ employees, acted with malice as defined by Civil Code §3294, and that said malice was ratified by a managing agent, or that the managing agents themselves acted with malice. Further, plaintiff’s must have evidence that rises to the level of clear and convincing evidence. For corporate defendants like Universal and MC, the evidence must show that a managing agent of the defendant is culpable. In White v. Ultramar (1999) 21 Cal.4th 563, 577 the Supreme Court said:
We therefore conclude that in amending [Civil Code] section 3294, subdivision (b), the legislature intended that principal liability for punitive damages not depend on employees’ managerial level, but on the extent to which they exercise substantial discretionary authority over decisions that ultimately determine corporate policy. Thus, supervisors who have broad discretionary powers and exercise substantial discretionary authority in the corporation could be managing agents. Conversely, supervisors who have no discretionary authority over decisions that ultimately determine corporate policy would not be considered managing agents even though they may have the ability to hire or fire other employees.”
In the absence of such evidence, the defendants will be entitled to a nonsuit on the punitive damages claims.
For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.