Exemplary Damages and Trespass to the Person: Navigating the Legal Landscape

Jan 23, 2024 | Publication

In the realm of personal injury law, a frequently asked question revolves around the availability of exemplary damages for trespass to the person. This query delves into the nuances of Section 21 of the Civil Liability Act (CLA) and its implications for individuals seeking compensation for intentional torts.

Trespass to the person is a legal term that encompasses a range of intentional torts (civil wrongs) involving interference with an individual’s bodily integrity or personal autonomy. Trespass to the person includes assault, battery and false imprisonment.

Section 21 of the CLA has long been a point of reference in personal injury cases arising from negligence, explicitly precluding the possibility of an award for exemplary damages. However, a crucial exception comes to light in the case of intentional torts, as highlighted by Section 3B(1)(a) of the CLA.

This specific provision clarifies that the constraints imposed by Section 21 do not extend to intentional torts, opening the door for claimants to pursue exemplary damages. The distinction between negligence and intentional torts is pivotal, as it influences the legal recourse available to those who have suffered personal injury due to intentional wrongdoing.

Exemplary damages, also known as punitive or punitive exemplary damages, are a unique form of compensation awarded with the primary purpose of punishing the wrongdoer. Unlike compensatory damages that aim to reimburse the victim for their losses, exemplary damages serve as a deterrent by punishing conduct that exhibits conscious wrongdoing in contumelious disregard of another’s rights.

Crucially, Section 3B(1)(a) of the CLA allows claimants in cases of intentional torts to seek exemplary damages, provided that the wrongful conduct meets specific criteria. The conduct in question must be deemed “reprehensible, highhanded, outrageous, or insulting” to warrant an award of exemplary damages.

This legal framework recognizes the need to address cases where the defendant’s actions go beyond mere negligence, involving a deliberate and intentional violation of the plaintiff’s rights. The availability of exemplary damages in such instances serves as a powerful tool to discourage and penalise behaviour that is not only harmful but also morally reprehensible.

In conclusion, individuals navigating the complexities of personal injury law, particularly in cases involving intentional torts such as trespass to the person, should be aware of the nuanced interplay between Section 21 and Section 3B(1)(a) of the CLA. The availability of exemplary damages in these situations underscores the legal system’s commitment to holding wrongdoers accountable for conduct that goes beyond mere negligence, providing a means of redress for victims who have suffered intentional harm.

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