Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says Plaintiff Can Get Punitives for Negligent Supervision

Lawyers Weekly
April 11, 2005

A victim of sexual molestation by a priest may be awarded punitive damages on a negligent supervision claim, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled.

The case was brought on behalf of a mildly retarded minor who was molested by a Roman Catholic priest and sued the parish, diocese and bishop for negligent supervision and retention. A jury awarded $1 million in punitive damages on the negligent supervision count.

The defendants argued that a finding that they had been negligent was insufficient to support an award of punitives.

But the court said that "[t]he fact that a cause of action bottomed on negligence does not require proof of the heightened showing of culpability necessary to sustain punitive damages in order to secure the underlying compensatory damages does not mean that punitive damages - as an element of damages - should be deemed automatically unavailable, even if the conduct of the defendant(s) went well beyond negligence and into the realm of the outrageous. ...

"We do not dispute that a showing of ordinary negligence is not enough to warrant punitive damages. ... But, neither is there anything in law or logic to prevent the plaintiff in a case sounding in negligence from undertaking the additional burden of attempting to prove, as a matter of damages, that the defendant's conduct not only was negligent but that the conduct was also outrageous, and warrants a response in the form of punitive damages. "

The court remanded the case for a determination of whether the evidence could support the award of punitives.

Hutchison v. Luddy (Lawyers Weekly USA No. 9930422) Pennsylvania Supreme Court No. J-208-2004. March 22, 2005.


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