Linthicum v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co

In Linthicum v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co., 150 Ariz. 326, 332, 723 P.2d 675, 681 (1986), the Arizona Supreme Court forcefully addressed the perils of amorphously defined standards for punitive damages, and warned against their use to justify punitive awards in garden-variety intentional tort cases: Having juries decide whether to award compensatory vs. punitive damages based on vague verbal distinctions between mere negligence, gross negligence and reckless indifference is often futile and nothing more than semantic jousting by opposing attorneys. Further, it leads to misapplication of the extraordinary civil remedy of punitive damages . . . . We, therefore, conclude that a less broad standard for punitive damages is needed. As discussed earlier, it is the "evil mind" that distinguishes action justifying the imposition of punitive damages. In whatever way the requisite mental state is expressed, the conduct must also be aggravated and outrageous. It is conscious action of a reprehensible character. The key is the wrongdoer's intent to injure the plaintiff or his deliberate interference with the rights of others, consciously disregarding the unjustifiably substantial risk of significant harm to them. While the necessary "evil mind" may be inferred, it is still this "evil mind" in addition to outwardly aggravated, outrageous, malicious, or fraudulent conduct which is required for punitive damages. We hold that before a jury may award punitive damages there must be evidence of an "evil mind" and aggravated and outrageous conduct. 150 Ariz. at 331, 723 P.2d at 680. To illustrate the need for a "less broad" standard, the Linthicum court identified 13 separate standards for punitive damages that had appeared in past cases, including the "intent to injure" and "reckless disregard for or indifference to the rights of others" that it later identified as "key." See id. at 330-31, 723 P.2d at 679-80.