Molzof v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Residence of Stephanie Nordlinger

DOCKET NO.: 90-838
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

CITATION: 502 US 301 (1992)
ARGUED: Nov 04, 1991
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1992

Christopher J. Wright - on behalf of the Respondent
Daniel A. Rottier - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Molzof v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 04, 1991 in Molzof v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 14, 1992 in Molzof v. United States

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 90-838, Molzof against the United States will be announced by Justice Thomas.

Clarence Thomas:

This case is before us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The Federal Tort Claims Act permits individual citizens to sue the United States under certain circumstances but provides that the United States shall not be liable for punitive damages.

In this case, a suit was brought under the Act when petitioner's late husband suffered severe brain damage due to the negligence of federal employees.

Although some damages were awarded, the courts below refuse to award damages for the husband's future medical care and his loss of enjoyment of life because they concluded that in this case, such damages were punitive damages barred by the Act.

In an opinion on file in the Court's office today, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand the case.

We conclude that the Federal Tort Claims Act bars the recovery only of what are considered punitive damages under traditional common law principles.

At common law, punitive damages generally are recoverable only upon proof that the defendant has engaged in egregious or intentional misconduct and the purpose of awarding such damages is to punish the defendant.

The damages at issue in this case do not fall within the common law definition.

We remand the case for the lower courts to consider certain issues of state law that they have not yet addressed.