One of the most hotly contested issues at the General Assembly this session has been a proposal to impose on victims harsh burdens of proof and evidence in order to collect punitive damages from corporate wrongdoers.
It would require that plaintiffs not only prove that a company engaged in heinous conduct, but that a manager or principal of the company involved committed, knew about or sanctioned that wrongdoing. Awards would have to be commensurate with the harm caused.
Proponents claim this bill would add a measure of predictability to punitive damage awards, which on occasion are outrageous. That is a proper business concern. But it has already been largely accomplished through a recent judicial ruling. In a landmark decision last month, the Maryland Court of Appeals raised the hurdle for plaintiffs by elevating the burden of proof. The court said a jury now has to find by "clear and convincing" evidence that the defendant acted with actual malice -- in full knowledge of and disregard for the harm. This pivotal change will make it much harder for plaintiffs to collect excessive damage awards.