Did Conduct Alleged Support a Claim For Punitive Damages?
Frank A. Nazzarro commenced an action for alleged personal injuries sustained after Anthony Salvatore backed his dump truck into him while at a gas station. Nazzarro then moved to amend the complaint to add a claim for punitive damages due to Salvatore’s “dangerous, reckless and careless manner” in operating the dump truck and his “conscious, wanton disregard for [Nazzarro’s] safety” and the safety of others. Supreme Court granted the motion. Salvatore appealed.
The Court affirmed– finding that Salvatore’s assertion that his conduct did not rise to the level of reprehensible misconduct so as to warrant punitive damages was without merit. The record disclosed that Salvatore was verbally arguing with Nazzarro and his friend. The friend’s vehicle was blocking a pump. According to the friend, he planned on moving his vehicle after putting items away but Salvatore wanted it done immediately. The friend testified at his deposition that Salvatore said, “if you’re not going to move it[,] I’m going to move it for you.”
Nazzarro was between the friend’s trailer and Salvatore’s dump truck. Salvatore “revved th[e] motor” and backed into the trailer. Before being able to jump out of the way, Nazzarro was hit. A nonparty witness testified at a deposition that Salvatore “did it on purpose” and that Nazzarro could have been killed. The nonparty witness also stated that, after Nazzarro escaped, Salvatore “revved the truck again and continued to hit [the] trailer.”
In view of the proof of Salvatore’s aggressive operation of his dump truck, Nazzarro’s proposed claim was not palpably insufficient or patently devoid of merit. Salvatore testified to a contrary version of the events. But Nazzarro was not required to prove the merits of his proposed claim. Leave to amend is freely given. And the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in granting Nazzarro’s motion.