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Punitive damages curb survives House panel votes


ANNAPOLIS -- A bill to give Maryland businesses more protection against lawsuits seeking punitive damages cleared its first major hurdle yesterday by surviving a vote in a House committee.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 12-10 in favor of House Bill 329, considered one of the most important pieces of business-related legislation this session.

The committee's approval sets the stage for what both sides expect to be a bitter and protracted battle as it comes up for a vote later this week in the full House of Delegates.

"You're going to see a very divided House," said Del. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., R-Baltimore County, one of the chief sponsors of the bill. "You're going to see a classic labor-management battle. You're going to see one heck of a fight on the floor."

The legislation would raise the standard of evidence needed to award punitive damages to a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit. It would also protect companies whose top officers and managers were unaware of the allegedly reckless behavior of employees.

Punitive damages are awarded to punish companies for wrongdoing and to deter others from engaging in the same kinds of behavior.

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