Punitive Damages

Except as indicated, all indented material is copied directly from the court’s opinion. 

Decisions of the Tennessee Supreme Court

Decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals

West v. Akard, No. E2021-00962-COA-R3-CV, p. 5-6 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 30, 2022). 

Courts award punitive damages to “‘punish a defendant, to deter him from committing acts of a similar nature, and to make a public example of him.’” Goff v. Elmo Greer & Sons Constr. Co., Inc., 297 S.W.3d 175, 187 (Tenn. 2009) (quoting Huckeby v. Spangler, 563 S.W.2d 555, 558-59 (Tenn. 1978)). Therefore, punitive damages are “appropriate only in the most egregious cases,” and an order “imposing such damages must be supported by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted intentionally, fraudulently, maliciously, or recklessly.” Id. (citing Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992)). Our Supreme Court has defined clear and convincing evidence as “evidence in which there is no serious or substantial doubt about the correctness of the conclusions drawn from the evidence.” Hodges, 833 S.W.2d at 901 n.3. “In other words, the evidence must be such that the truth of the facts asserted be ‘highly probable.’” Goff, 297 S.W.3d at 187 (quoting Teter v. Republic Parking Sys., Inc., 181 S.W.3d 330, 341 (Tenn. 2005)).

The punitive damages at issue in this case were awarded in a bench trial. Thus, in reviewing the record to determine whether Tenants proved by clear and convincing evidence that Landlord committed malicious, intentional, or reckless acts, we review the circuit court’s findings of fact de novo with a presumption of correctness unless the evidence preponderates otherwise. TENN. R. APP. P. 13(d); Chandler v. Chandler, No. W2010-01503-COA-R3-CV, 2012 WL 2393698, at *5 (Tenn. Ct. App. June 26, 2012). We review the circuit court’s conclusions of law de novo without a presumption of correctness. Chandler, 2012 WL 2393698, at *5.


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