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Owens-Illinois, Inc. v. Zenobia

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Owens-Illinois, Inc. appealed after the trial court awarded William Zenobia punitive damages under the instruction that punitive damages were appropriate upon a finding of implied malice.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In order to be awarded punitive damages in Maryland, the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant acted with actual malice.

    Facts.

    William Zenobia (Zenobia) alongside another plaintiff sued Owens-Illinois (Defendant) for punitive damages claiming that asbestos produced by the Defendant caused harm to both Zenobia and the additional plaintiff. The jury was instructed that punitive damages could be awarded after finding implied malice, and the jury found in favor of Zenobia, granting punitive damages to both Zenobia and the additional plaintiff. The Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff has to prove that the defendant acted with actual malice in order to be awarded punitive damages.

    Held.

    Yes. Remanded.

    Dissent.

    (Bell, J). The majority opinion in this case would prohibit punitive damages in cases where the defendant should be held liable for their reckless disregard for human life. There is no reason whereby actual malice should be the standard for punitive damages rather than the gross negligence required in implied malice. The majority has already increased the predictability of punitive damages awards by increasing the burden of proof to “clear and convincing.”

    Discussion.

    In order for punitive damages to be awarded on the instruction of implied malice, the plaintiff only has to prove that the defendant was grossly negligent. The gross negligent standard, where a defendant exhibits a reckless disregard for human life, will create a limitless standard for punitive damage awards. Rather, proof of actual malice would be more appropriate in non-intentional tort claims claiming punitive damages to deter individual defendants from using ill will in their harm to plaintiffs.


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