In our view, very few people in our society, a tiny percentage, qualify as “evil,” which one might define as, “all things being equal, being predisposed, temperamentally inclined, or preferring to hurt other people rather than to help them.”

Most of us genuinely believe ourselves to be “good people,” we want the world to believe we are “good people,” and, most importantly, we are personally invested in seeing ourselves as “good people.” Consequently, we invest time and energy to do and to be good.

If we can agree with this proposition, punitive damages, i.e., the imposition of a financial spanking for intentional and unjustified harm to other people, should be fairly rare.

Further, when it is appropriate, it should rarely arise in the context of the intentional infliction of harm. Rather, it should arise as a result of apathy, thoughtlessness, something more like negligence — but something even more (and worse) than that — “reckless disregard” — for the rights of others.

This morally compromised mental state (“reckless disregard”), as opposed to pure evil, is widespread. Moreover,  cut-throat competitive environments heighten the risk.

Businesses with high volumes and low margins are fertile grounds for this moral failing.

Even better if the “customers” in these businesses are poor and ill-equipped to fight back.

This brings us to debt collection and Williams vs. Rodenburg LLP d/b/a Rodenburg Law Firm. U.S. Mag. Judge Hildy Bowbeer (D. Minn.) recently granted Plaintiff’s motion for punitive damages against Rodenburg. (Ms. Charlene Williams is represented by Adam Strauss and his team at Tarshish Cody plc.)

To be sure, it is important to keep in mind that the decision of U.S. Mag. Judge Hildy Bowbeer (D. Minn.) to allow a claim for punitive damages to go forward takes the plaintiff’s allegations as true. It is possible they are not true and that punitive damages against Rodenburg are wholly inappropriate. At the same time, however, the allegations might illustrate how “good people” sometimes do bad things, through reckless disregard.

Ms. Charlene Williams’ allegations are quite simple. The Rodenburg firm, debt collectors, after having been put on notice several times and in several ways that Ms. Williams was the wrong target for debt collection efforts (not “Charlene Mumbo-Williams”), continued to pursue Ms. Williams for debts that she did not incur. They sought to garnish her wages, and, in this way, allegedly interfered without justification in her life (that is, acted with “reckless disregard” to her rights).

Whether true or not, this is the far more common conduct that results in punitive damages.

 

 

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