APPEAL FROM THE ORDER ENTERED JUNE 29, 1984 IN THE COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF DELAWARE COUNTY, CIVIL NO. 75-10552.
Robert T. Seiwell, Media, for appellant in No. 1993 and appellee in No. 2061.
John T. Salvucci, Plymouth Meeting, for appellant in No. 2061 and appellee in No. 1993.
Cirillo, President Judge and Cavanaugh, Brosky, Wieand, Mcewen, Olszewski, Del Sole, Montemuro and Tamilia, JJ. Olszewski, J., files a concurring opinion.
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Plaintiff and defendant have both appealed from an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County. Plaintiff sued defendant on theories of defamation and interference with business relations. The jury was asked by way of special interrogatories whether defendant did defame plaintiff and interfere with its business relations, and the jury answered in the affirmative. Despite this, no compensatory damages were awarded. However, the jury did
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award plaintiff $75,000.00 in punitive damages.*fn1 The trial court found this award shocking and ordered remittitur to $35,000.00.
Defendant contends it was privileged to make the statements which formed the basis for plaintiff's cause of action. Essentially, defendant, a bank, informed prospective borrowers that plaintiff, an automobile dealer, sold such inferior automobiles that no car loans would be made to anyone insistent upon buying a vehicle from plaintiff. Defendant characterizes its statements as true and made in the ordinary course of business. Plaintiff has maintained from the outset that defendant sought purposely to drive it out of business.
The trial court expressly recognized the existence of a privilege. We must therefore determine whether that privilege was exceeded. As we reiterated in Chicarella v. Passant, 343 Pa. Super. 330, 494 A.2d 1109 (1985), a privilege is abused when the subject statements are activated by negligence or malice, or are beyond the scope of that which is necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the privilege exists. The jury was properly charged to that effect. Through its verdict and interrogatory answers, the jury clearly found that in fact defendant did exceed its privilege. We find no basis for disturbing this finding on appeal in light of the evidence presented at trial.
Defendant also attacks the award itself as contrary to law. The trial court, reading from the Pennsylvania Suggested Standard Jury Instructions (Civil) § 14.02, Subcommittee Draft (September 26, 1976), instructed the jury that no reasonable relationship need exist between compensatory and punitive damages. Defendant failed to object to this charge at trial but now maintains that such a reasonable
[ 358 Pa. Super. Page 136]
relationship must exist. It claims that the jury's award must be set aside because no punitive award can bear a reasonable ...