Punitive damages are a controversial remedy in Canadian and non-Canadian law. Some scholars have gone so far as to argue that punitive damages are entirely inconsistent with the goals and principles of private law and ought to be abolished. Notwithstanding these criticisms, the Supreme Court of Canada has treated punitive damages as a relatively uncontroversial private law remedy. However, the circumstances under which a court will consider awarding punitive damages have evolved with recent Supreme Court decisions. One example is the introduction of the independent actionable wrong requirement in Vorvis v Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. The independent actionable wrong requirement has been criticized as an incoherent and ineffective check on the availability of punitive damages. Moreover, the duty of honest contractual performance introduced by the Supreme Court of Canada in Bhasin v Hrynew has added a new and readily available source of an independent actionable wrong.
This paper addresses two main issues. First, it discusses and rebuts various theoretical objections to the availability of punitive damages in private law. It then provides a cogent theoretical justification for the availability of the remedy. Second, the paper discusses the impact that the duty recognized in Bhasin may have on the availability of punitive damages. Ultimately, this paper argues that the duty recognized in Bhasin has crystallized the practical and theoretical irrelevance of the independent actionable wrong requirement and, consequently, that the requirement should be eliminated.
Eric Andrews, ‘Lex Punit Mendacium: punitive damages and Bhasin v Hrynew‘ (2017) 7:2 online: Western Journal of Legal Studies.