Punitive Damages Cases In Illinois

Repeated cases state that punitive damages are not favored in the law. (For example see Hammond v. North American Asbestos Corp. (1983), 97 Ill. 2d 195, 454 N.E.2d, 210). In the same case, the supreme court directed that the courts should take action to see that punitive damages are not improperly or unwisely awarded. The purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter outrageous conduct. (Winters v. Greeley (1989), 189 Ill. App. 3d 590, 136 Ill. Dec. 898, appeal denied 128 Ill. 2d 673). Punitive damages are penal in nature, meant to punish the wrong-doer and not to compensate the injured. Kelsay v. Motorola Inc. (1978), 74 Ill. 2d 172, 23 Ill. Dec. 559. Smith v. Hill (1958), 12 Ill. 2d 588. The fact that punitive damages have not been assessed against governmental units in Illinois is based on strong public policy grounds as well as sovereign immunity. Local governmental units in Illinois have been exempted by the General Assembly from punitive damages on the ground that it is unsound public policy to punish taxpayers for misconduct of employees over which they have no control. So strong is the public policy that recently a public railway corporation, METRA, not specifically named in the Tort Immunity Act and not exempted from punitive damages in its enabling act has been held not to be subject to punitive damages on public policy grounds. Smith v. Northeast Illinois Regulatory Comm. R.R. Corp. (1991), 210 Ill. App. 3d 223, 569 N.E.2d 41, 155 Ill. Dec. 41. Section 8(d) of the Court of Claims Act confers upon this Court jurisdiction in certain tort claims, to wit: "All claims against the State for damages in cases sounding in tort, if a like cause of action would lie against a private person or corporation 705 ILCS 505/8(d). This Court traditionally has not awarded punitive damages, but the Claimant argues there is nothing in section 8(d), supra, or the Court of Claims Act to prevent this Court from awarding punitive damages. Section 8(d), supra, uses the term, "cause of action." There are many definitions of a "cause of action," but it is usually understood to be a set of facts giving rise to a claim allowed and enforceable by a court. Punitive damages are not a cause of action but are a type of relief arising from some successful causes of action. (McGrew v. Heinold Commodities, Inc. (1986), 147 Ill. App. 3d 104, 100 Ill. Dec. 446). Thus, section 8(d) of the Court of Claims Act does not specifically authorize, by its language, this Court to assess punitive damages, as it speaks in terms of causes of action, not types of relief.