Iowa Rules That The Dead Cannot Be Sued for Punitive Damages

The Supreme Court of Iowa has ruled that punitive damages cannot be recovered from the estate of a dead tortfeasor.

The thinking goes that punitive damages cannot punish a dead person.  In addition, the Court held that in such cases the actor’s state of mind is important and direct evidence of the state of mind is unavailable after death.

The excellent dissent points out the opposing view.

Read the opinions in this case for a wonderful understanding of both sides of this issue.  The opinion is In the Matter of the Estate of Johnny Vajgrt, Deceased, No. 10-1088 (Iowa S. Ct. Aug. 5, 2011).

Tennessee common  law does not allow punitive damages to be awarded against a decedent’s estate.  Hayes v. Gill, 390 S.W.2d 213,217 (Tenn. 1965).

Hat tip to Torts Prof for alerting me to this decision.