Treble Damages are Punitive & Excluded by Policy

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Punitive Damages Fail Their Purpose if Insurable

Progressive Direct Insurance Company (insurer) alleged treble damages pursuant to the statute did not apply to its insurance policy because punitive damages were clearly excluded.

The trial court stated the issue for adjudication was whether public policy required statutory treble damages to be excluded from the policy's coverage. 


The obvious public policy behind the treble damages provision is to provide an added level of deterrence against hit-and-run drivers who damage attended vehicles. The Legislature's public policy for imposing a criminal penalty and the treble damages in 47 O.S. § 10-103 were to create a deterrence by imposing punitive measures upon a driver "involved in an accident who did not fulfill the requirements of 47 O.S. § 10-104 and fled the scene of the accident.

Generally, a statutory multiplier for damages has a punitive nature when damages are meant to punish "the wrongdoer" and to act as a deterrent to others. 

The treble damages provision in 47 O.S.2011, § 10-103 had a primary purpose to deter hit-and-run drivers, and "is more aligned with the definition of punitive damages than it is with non-punitive or compensatory" damages and the statutory treble damages in 47 O.S. 2011, § 10-103 were excluded by the policy.


It should be axiomatic, and it is in Oklahoma, that an insurer and insured are free to agree to a policy's provisions. The exclusion for intentional acts and punitive damages was conspicuous, plain and clear and the Supreme Court concluded that trial court was correct when it refused to allow coverage for the punishment damages established by the statute.

© 2022 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. Mr. Zalma practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business.

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