Written by Kate Adams, Esq.
Edited by Bill Pfund, Esq.
In the 2018 legislative session there were a number of important bills before the Senate and House of Representatives that could have had a substantial impact on the damages claims Plaintiffs are allowed to make and the amount of punitive damages plaintiffs can receive.
Senate Bill 895 sought to increase the cap on punitive damages from $350,000 to $600,000. After the bill was initially proposed it was amended by the Senate, which reduced the sought after increase from $600,000 to $500,000. This version of the Bill passed the Senate but when sent to the House of Representatives for consideration, it failed to pass.
A second attempt at increasing the amount of punitive damages recoverable by a plaintiff, House Bill 1305, was much broader and sought to eliminate the limitation on punitive damage awards all together. This bill did not gain support in the House of Representatives and failed to make it out of subcommittee.
Efforts to increase the cap on punitive damages have been before the House and Senate three times in the past four years. In 2016 and 2015 there were similar bills to Senate Bill 895 that sought to increase the cap on punitive damages. Senate Bill 111 in 2016 sought to increase the punitive damage cap from $350,000 to $500,000. This bill, like the recent Senate Bill 895, passed the Senate but did not pass the House of Representatives. In 2015 House Bill 2360 sought to increase the punitive damage cap from $350,000 to $750,000. The Bill also failed to make it out of the House of Representatives.
Proposed legislation to increase the cap on punitive damages in 2016 and 2018 gained enough support to pass the House of Representatives and make their way to the Senate. As the law currently stands punitive damages are capped at $350,000. It’s likely that similar Bills will to continue to be proposed in the coming years given the incremental progress these Bills have been making, and the fact that the amount has not increased since the Code section was enacted more than 30 years ago in 1987.
House Bill 323 proposed the creation of a new category of claims for loss of consortium. This Bill also failed. This Bill sought to change Virginia’s long held position that a cause of action for loss of consortium for the injury to a spouse, parent or minor child does not exist. This Bill did not gain much momentum and failed to progress beyond the House of Representatives.
House Bill 209 sought to make it easier for guests and tenants to recover from property owners and landlords for the foreseeable criminal actions of third parties. This Bill did not get much support and also failed to make it beyond the House of Representatives.
These proposals are ones to watch closely in the coming years. If they are passed, they will have a substantial impact on the type of claims which can be brought against a defendant as well as the amount of damages a plaintiff may recover.