The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
January 19, 1994 94-R-0133
FROM: Pamela Lucas, Research Attorney
RE: Punitive Damages
You asked what is the general rule in Connecticut for the availability and amount of punitive damages, and whether there are any exceptions to the rule.
AVAILABILITY OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES
In Connecticut, punitive damages are awarded under either specific statutory provisions or the common law. No statute or practice rule, however, establishes a standard for punitive damages awards in general. Instead, various civil statutes provide for punitive damages awards in discrete situations. These statutes usually declare what the governing standard is; whether the award is mandatory or discretionary with the court or trier of fact; and what the amount should be, including whether it is subject to a maximum dollar figure. For example, for groundless or vexatious civil suits or defenses, CGS § 52-568 provides for mandatory double damages if the suit or defense was without probable cause, and treble damages if additionally the suit was motivated by "a malicious intent unjustly to vex and trouble another person." A list of civil statutes authorizing punitive damages follows below.
Where there is no controlling statutory provision, or the provision is silent as to the applicable standard, the courts allow punitive damages "when the evidence shows a reckless indifference to the rights of others or an intentional or wanton violation of those rights" (Collens v. New Canaan Water Co., 155 Conn. 477, 489 (1967) (tort action asserting taking of water privileges), quoted with approval in Tessman v. Tiger Lee Construction Co., 228 Conn. 42, 54 (1993) (CUTPA action), see also, e.g., Champagne v. Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., 212 Conn. 509, 532 (1989) (common law strict liability action); Markey v. Santangelo, 195 Conn. 76, 77 (1985) (common law assault and battery action); Triangle Sheet Metal Works, Inc. v. Silver, 154 Conn. 116, 128 (1966) (breach of contract action founded on tortious conduct)).
AMOUNT OF PUNITIVE DAMAGES
Statutes which provide for punitive damages awards usually specify their amount or establish a maximum dollar figure. Where punitive damages are awarded under the common law, or the applicable statute is silent as to their amount, the general rule is that they are limited to plaintiff's attorneys fees and nontaxable costs (see Bodner v. United Servs. Auto. Ass'n, 222 Conn. 480, 492 (1992)). In Bodner, the Court observed that this rule provides some punishment and deterrence in addition to compensation of the victim. The Court reiterated the reasoning articulated in Waterbury Petroleum Products, Inc. v. Canaan Oil and Fuel Co., 193 Conn. 208, 237-38 (1984), where it rejected plaintiff's claims that punitive damages should not be limited to the expense of litigation less taxable costs. According to the Bodner Court,
`in limiting punitive damages awards to the costs of litigation less taxable costs, our rule fulfills the salutary purpose of fully compensating a victim for the harm inflicted on him while avoiding the potential for injustice which may result from the exercise of unfettered discretion by a jury' (222 Conn. at 492 (quoting Waterbury Petroleum Prods., Inc., 193 Conn. at 237-38)).
Punitive damages do not, however, include costs incurred in defending a subsequent appeal (O'Leary v. Indus. Park Corp., 211 Conn. 648, 651 (1989)).
We have not found any cases which discuss exceptions to the general rules on punitive damages. Exceptions may be found in the specific civil statutes providing for punitive damages.
The following are examples of civil statutes providing for punitive damages:
§ 14-295 Defendant deliberately or with reckless disregard operated motor vehicle in violation of specific traffic provisions. Double or treble damages for persons injured as a result. (Discretionary with trier of fact.)
§ 42-110g Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Punitive damages. (Discretionary with the court.) Additional civil penalties up to specified amounts, payable to the state if temporary restraining order or injunction violated, of if wilful violation of the Act (CGS § 42-110o).
§ 46a-89(b) Discriminatory practices regarding the sale or rental of a dwelling or commercial property. Punitive damages not to exceed $50,000. Additional civil penalties in specified amounts payable to the state to vindicate the public interest. (Discretionary with the court.)
§ 46a-98 Discriminatory credit practices. Punitive damages not to exceed $1,000; for class actions, punitive damages not to exceed $5,000 or 1% of creditor's net worth. (Discretionary with the court.)
§ 52-240(b) Product liability actions. Punitive damages, not to exceed twice the damages, if the harm resulted from of product seller's reckless disregard for safety of product users, consumers, or others who were injured. (Discretionary with the trier of fact; court determines amount.)
§ 52-245 False statement concerning a defense. Double costs, if judgment in favor of plaintiff and court is of the opinion that defendant filed an affidavit or made a statement without just cause or for purpose of delay. (Discretionary with the court.)
§ 52-564 Theft. Treble damages if defendant stole property of another or knowingly received and concealed stolen property. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-564a Shoplifting. Punitive damages in amount not to exceed $300. If plaintiff does not prevail, the court may award defendant his costs, including reasonable attorney's fees, and damages not to exceed $300. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-565 Forgery. Double damages. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-566 Wilful removal or destruction of a bridge. Treble damages. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-567 Injury to milestone, guidepost, or railing for the direction or safety of travelers. Treble damages. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-568 Groundless or vexatious suit or defense in any civil action. Double damages if suit or defense without probable cause. Treble damages if suit or defense without probable cause and with malicious intent unjustly to vex and trouble. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-569 Wilfully and unlawfully throwing down or leaving open any bar, gate or fence belonging to a particular enclosure or common field. Double damages and a sum not to exceed $5.00, according to nature and aggravation of the trespass. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-570(b) Computer-related offenses. Treble damages where showing of wilful and malicious conduct in violation of § 53a-251. (Mandatory.)
§ 52-571 Discrimination on account of membership in armed forces. Double damages. (Mandatory.)
This list is not an exhaustive one; upon request we will research additional provisions.