Punitive Damages in Breach of Contract Cases

Punitive damages are “imposed for the purpose of punishment and deterrence.” Rodriguez v. Suzuki Motor Corp., 936 S.W.2d 104, 110 (Mo. 1996). As a general matter, punitive damages may not be awarded to a plaintiff in a breach of contract case. Peterson v. Continental Boiler Works, Inc., 783 S.W.2d 896, 902 (Mo. 1996). But there are least two significant exceptions to this rule.

The first exception is when the breach amounts to a separate tort. This occurs when the breach is tantamount to an “independent, willful tort and there are proper allegations of malice, wantonness, or oppression.” Id. at 903.

The second exception is when the breach of contract is coupled with a violation of a fiduciary duty. Id.at 903. Specifically, “where a breach of contract merges with and assumes the character of, a willful tort, calculated rather than inadvertent, flagrant, and in disregard of obligations of trust punitive damages may be assessed.” Id.(citing Brown v. Coates, 253 F.2d 36, 40 (D.C. Cir. 1958).

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