The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN GARRETT PENN
This case is before the Court on defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of liability for punitive and compensatory damages.
After giving careful consideration to the motion, the opposition thereto, and the record in this case, the Court concludes for reasons set out below that the motion must be denied.
Plaintiffs argue that to succeed on his motion for summary judgment, on the issue of punitive damages, defendant must prove that he was insane. They assert that defendant's sanity remains unresolved by the prior criminal proceeding and subsequent commitment. Plaintiffs additionally contend that as a matter of law, a tortfeasor is liable for compensatory damages, regardless of his mental state at the time of the tort.
Insane tortfeasors are not liable for punitive damages to the victims of their torts. Aetna Casualty and Surety Co. v. Porter, 181 F.Supp. 81, 88 (D.D.C. 1960). Nonetheless, the question of defendant's sanity, at the time of the tort, remains a genuine issue of fact to be tried. Defendant may not rely on the verdict in his criminal trial to support the proposition that he was legally insane at the time of the shootings.
It is well settled that in order to preclude a party from raising, in a later proceeding, an issue that was determined in a prior proceeding -- as defendant seeks to do on the issue of insanity -- identity of the issues in the two proceedings must exist. See Clark-Cowlitz Joint Operating Agency v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 264 U.S. App. D.C. 58, 826 F.2d 1074, 1079 (1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 913, 108 S. Ct. 1088, 99 L. Ed. 2d 247 (1988). Further, with regard to the application of issue preclusion in the setting of a criminal trial and a subsequent civil trial, the Supreme Court has said that "the difference in degree of the burden of proof in criminal and civil cases precludes application of the doctrine . . . ." Helvering v. Mitchell, 303 U.S. 391, 397, 58 S. Ct. 630, 632, 82 L. Ed. 917 (1938). The Court in Helvering stressed that an acquittal in a criminal trial under the reasonable doubt standard is not the same as determining that a defendant is not liable under the civil standard of preponderance of the evidence. Id.
Defendant cannot dispute that the standard in effect at the time of his federal criminal trial placed the burden of proving his sanity on the government.
In the previous criminal trial, the jury found that the defendant was not sane because the government did not prove his sanity beyond a reasonable doubt. However, in the instant civil action, defendant bears the burden of proving that he was insane by a preponderance of the evidence. Accordingly summary judgment is improper as to the issue of recoverability of punitive damages because there is a genuine issue as to defendant's sanity.
An insane person is liable for compensatory damages for his torts where express malice or evil intent is not a necessary element of the tort. Aetna Casualty, 181 F. Supp. at 88. The primary purpose of such a rule is to compensate the victims for their loss.
Defendant urges the Court to reject this well established rule.
While the Court acknowledges that commentators have criticized the common law rule, the fact remains that "courts in this country almost invariably say in the broadest terms that an insane person is liable for his torts. " Williams v. Kearbey, 13 Kan. App. 2d 564, 775 P.2d 670 (Kan. 1989). See e.g. Mullen v. Bruce, 168 Cal. App. 2d 494, 335 P.2d 945 (Cal. 1959); Polmatier v. Russ, 206 Conn. 229, 537 A.2d 468 (Con. 1988); Kaczer v. Marrero, 324 So. 2d 717 (Fla. 1976); Vosnos v. Perry, 43 Ill. App. 3d 834, 357 N.E.2d 614, 2 Ill. Dec. 447 (Ill. 1976) Banks v. Dawkins, 339 So. 2d 566 (Miss. 1976) Albiccocco v. Nicoletto, 11 A.D.2d 690, 204 N.Y.S.2d 566 (Ny. 1960) aff'd, 9 N.Y.2d 920, 217 N.Y.S.2d 91, 176 N.E.2d 100 (1961). Moreover, there are modern justifications for such a rule. See Splane, Tort Liability of the Mentally Ill in Negligence Actions, 93 Yale L. J. 153, 163 (1983) (using the objective standard to determine primary negligence helps minimize the burden on the community from deinstitutionalisation, helps foster community acceptance of the mentally ill, and encourages the mentally ill to become self-sufficient responsible members of the community).
Defendant relies on Fitzgerald v. Lawhorn, 29 Conn. Supp. 511, 294 A.2d 338 (Conn. 1972) in which the court was not willing to accept the majority view that insane persons are liable for their torts because "it appears to be an outdated point of view."
However, Fitzgerald has been overruled sub silentio in Polmatier v. Russ, 206 Conn. 229, 537 A.2d 468 (Conn. 1988). In that case the court held that "the majority rule is consistent with the settled common-law rule that where one of two innocent persons must suffer loss from an act done, it is just that it should fall on ...