Unlike in Virginia, there is no statutory cap on an award of punitive damages in Maryland with the exception of medical malpractice cases. Bowden v. Caldor, 350 Md. 4, 710 A.2d 267 (1998). However, it is more difficult to establish grounds for obtaining punitive damages in Maryland.
Punitive damages in Maryland are allowed in personal injury cases if the defendant’s actions are deliberate, and/or are based on an evil motive or intent to cause the injury. The exact language used by the Maryland Court of Appeals to describe this important element is actual malice, “in the sense of conscious and deliberate wrongdoing, evil or wrongful motive, intent to injure, ill will or fraud.” Scott v. Jenkins, 345 Md. 21, 690 A.2d 1000 (1997). Tierco Maryland, Inc. v. Williams, 381 Md. 378, 849 A.2d 504 (2004); Garcia v. Foulger Pratt, 155 Md. App. 634, 845 A.2d 16 (2003).
This rule applies to both intentional torts, like civil assault and battery claims, as well as negligence claims (often personal injury arising out of car accident cases). The claimant must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted deliberately, with evil or wrongful motive to injure. Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia, 325 Md. 420, 601 A.2d 633 (1992); Garcia v. Foulger Pratt, 155 Md. App. 634, 845 A.2d 16 (2003).
Claimant should establish some compensatory damages before obtaining any punitive damages. Caldor v. Bowden, 330 Md. 632, 625 A.2d 959 (1993). And even then, Maryland law gives the jury the sole discretion to award or deny punitive damages to the claimants regardless of how overwhelming the evidence is to establish the necessary grounds for punitive damages. Philip Morris, Inc. v. Angeletti, 358 Md. 689, 752 A.2d 200 (2000).
In an automobile negligence case, an award of punitive damages can only be based upon a showing of actual malice as defined in Owens-Illinois v. Zenobia, i.e., an act characterized by “evil motive, intent to injure, ill will or fraud.” Komornik v. Sparks, 331 Md. 720, 629 A.2d 721 (1993). Unlike Virginia, Maryland law has no automatic statutory provisions allowing punitive damages claims based on the blood alcohol level of a drunk driver. In a drunk driver case, victims still have to establish “evil motive, intent to injure, ill will or fraud” in order to get the courts award punitive damages against the defendant.