The History of Punitive Damages In Ohio
The modern history of punitive damages in Ohio begins with the classic case of Saberton v. Greenwald (1946), 146 Ohio St. 414, 32 O.O. 454, 66 N.E.2d 224, and culminates with the definitive case of Preston v. Murty (1987), 32 Ohio St. 3d 334, 512 N.E.2d 1174.
In Saberton, a jeweler sold a watch that he represented to be a new watch to a customer for $ 33.75.
The customer returned the watch to the jeweler for repairs five times before learning that it actually was a new case containing 25-year-old repaired watch works.
In awarding punitive damages, the Ohio Supreme Court relied upon the black-letter law of Ohio Jurisprudence: "In Ohio, in accord with the weight of authority, punitive damages are allowed as a punishment to the offender, and as an example, to deter others from offending in a like manner.
Such damages are given as smart money in the way of pecuniary punishment upon the ground public policy."
The court reversed the trial court that had refused to charge the jury oh punitive damages, finding it to be reversible error not to so charge.
More than three decades later, the Ohio Supreme Court reaffirmed the "egregious fraud perpetuated by the defendant jeweler in Saberton" and declared that the case "serves as an example of the type of fraud for which punitive damages are awarded."
The search in Ohio for the key ingredient to justify an award of punitive damages came to rest with the requirement of "actual malice" imposed by the Supreme Court of Ohio in Preston v. Murty, supra, in which the Ohio Supreme Court defined this essential element as follows:
"Actual malice, necessary for an award of punitive damages, is:
(1) that state of mind under which a person's conduct is characterized by hatred, ill will or a spirit of revenge, or;
(2) a conscious disregard for the rights and safety of other persons that has a great probability of causing substantial harm."
The Preston v. Murty court discussed punitive damages:
"Since punitive damages are assessed for punishment and not compensation a positive element of conscious wrongdoing is always required. This element has been termed conscious, deliberate or intentional. It requires a party to possess knowledge of the harm than might be caused by his behavior." the concept "requires a finding that the probability of harm occurring is great and that the harm will be substantial."