Supreme Court Affirms Punitive Damages Only Available for Torts

By: Marquettes Robinson

In a recent case, Lucarell v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 2018-Ohio-15, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that punitive damages are only available as an award for tort claims under Ohio law.  Rejecting the logic of several Ohio appellate courts, including the Seventh District Court of Appeals, the Court held there is no “exception” to the longstanding common law rule precluding the award of punitive damages for breach of contract.  The lower courts had improperly reasoned “that punitive damages may be awarded if a breach of contract is accompanied by a connected but independent tort.”  The Supreme Court rejected this explaining, “Although we have noted that the conduct constituting a breach of contract can also constitute a tort, we have made clear that punitive damages are available only when the claimant suffered a harm distinct from the breach of contract action and attributable solely to the alleged tortious conduct.  Thus punitive damages are recoverable for a tort committed in connection with, but independently of, the breach of contract, where the essentials of an award of such damages are otherwise present, the allowance of such damages being for the tort and not for the breach of contract.”  2018-Ohio-15, ¶ 37. 

The takeaway:  When all that can be proven is that a party has wrongfully or maliciously breached a contract, only contract damages are available.  When a breach of contract is accompanied by other tortious behavior, whether misrepresentations, bad faith, breach of fiduciary duty, slander, trespass, or intentional infliction of emotional distress (to name a few), and that tortious behavior causes identifiable, separate, and independent injury to the claimant, then damages can be awarded for the breach of contract and the tort.  Also, if the claimant is able to show that the tortious behavior was malicious, punitive damages may be awarded as well.

The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this web site or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Thacker Robinson Zinz LPA and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

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Supreme Court Affirms Punitive Damages Only Available for Torts

By: Marquettes Robinson

In a recent case, Lucarell v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 2018-Ohio-15, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that punitive damages are only available as an award for tort claims under Ohio law.  Rejecting the logic of several Ohio appellate courts, including the Seventh District Court of Appeals, the Court held there is no “exception” to the longstanding common law rule precluding the award of punitive damages for breach of contract.  The lower courts had improperly reasoned “that punitive damages may be awarded if a breach of contract is accompanied by a connected but independent tort.”  The Supreme Court rejected this explaining, “Although we have noted that the conduct constituting a breach of contract can also constitute a tort, we have made clear that punitive damages are available only when the claimant suffered a harm distinct from the breach of contract action and attributable solely to the alleged tortious conduct.  Thus punitive damages are recoverable for a tort committed in connection with, but independently of, the breach of contract, where the essentials of an award of such damages are otherwise present, the allowance of such damages being for the tort and not for the breach of contract.”  2018-Ohio-15, ¶ 37. 

The takeaway:  When all that can be proven is that a party has wrongfully or maliciously breached a contract, only contract damages are available.  When a breach of contract is accompanied by other tortious behavior, whether misrepresentations, bad faith, breach of fiduciary duty, slander, trespass, or intentional infliction of emotional distress (to name a few), and that tortious behavior causes identifiable, separate, and independent injury to the claimant, then damages can be awarded for the breach of contract and the tort.  Also, if the claimant is able to show that the tortious behavior was malicious, punitive damages may be awarded as well.

The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this web site or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Thacker Robinson Zinz LPA and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

Back to posts
Print article

Supreme Court Affirms Punitive Damages Only Available for Torts

By: Marquettes Robinson

In a recent case, Lucarell v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, 2018-Ohio-15, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that punitive damages are only available as an award for tort claims under Ohio law.  Rejecting the logic of several Ohio appellate courts, including the Seventh District Court of Appeals, the Court held there is no “exception” to the longstanding common law rule precluding the award of punitive damages for breach of contract.  The lower courts had improperly reasoned “that punitive damages may be awarded if a breach of contract is accompanied by a connected but independent tort.”  The Supreme Court rejected this explaining, “Although we have noted that the conduct constituting a breach of contract can also constitute a tort, we have made clear that punitive damages are available only when the claimant suffered a harm distinct from the breach of contract action and attributable solely to the alleged tortious conduct.  Thus punitive damages are recoverable for a tort committed in connection with, but independently of, the breach of contract, where the essentials of an award of such damages are otherwise present, the allowance of such damages being for the tort and not for the breach of contract.”  2018-Ohio-15, ¶ 37. 

The takeaway:  When all that can be proven is that a party has wrongfully or maliciously breached a contract, only contract damages are available.  When a breach of contract is accompanied by other tortious behavior, whether misrepresentations, bad faith, breach of fiduciary duty, slander, trespass, or intentional infliction of emotional distress (to name a few), and that tortious behavior causes identifiable, separate, and independent injury to the claimant, then damages can be awarded for the breach of contract and the tort.  Also, if the claimant is able to show that the tortious behavior was malicious, punitive damages may be awarded as well.

The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this web site or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Thacker Robinson Zinz LPA and the user or browser. The opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of the firm or any individual attorney.

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