On April 9, 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed and remanded for retrial the circuit court striking the medical malpractice plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages against a physician who repeatedly prescribed narcotic pain medication without examining the patient for 14 months unto her wrongful death by medication overdose. The case is Curtis v. Highfill, Record No. 190117.
Significantly, punitive damages in Curtis was adjudicated under the “willful and wanton negligence” standard. Id. at 5. The Court emphasized that “ill will is not a necessary element” of such negligence, id.; and that “the tortfeasor may be found to have acted in a willful and wanton or reckless manner ‘even though he hopes or even expects that his conduct will prove harmless’.” Id. at 5-6.
Moreover, Curtis also emphasized that “the jury could have rejected [the physician’s self-serving] testimony”. The “jury could have reasonably inferred that [the Defendant] consciously disregarded”. Id. at 8.