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Property Damage Specialists, Inc. v. Rechichar

Supreme Court of Virginia

September 8, 2016

PROPERTY DAMAGE SPECIALISTS, INC.
v.
AARON RECHICHAR

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF SHENANDOAH COUNTY Dennis L. Hupp, Judge

          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell and Kelsey, JJ., and Russell, S.J.

          OPINION

          S. BERNARD GOODWYN JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider whether a court may award punitive damages as a form of "appropriate relief" pursuant to Code § 40.1-51.2:2.

         Background

         On May 14, 2013, Aaron Rechichar (Rechichar) filed suit against Property Damage Specialists, Inc., d/b/a Paul Davis Restoration of Northwest Virginia (PDS), in the Circuit Court of Shenandoah County claiming retaliatory discharge in violation of Code § 40.1-51.2:1. Rechichar alleged that PDS, his employer, violated Code § 40.1-51.2:1 by terminating his employment in retaliation for his complaining to the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry, Occupational Safety and Health Compliance Program, about unsafe practices at PDS's facility. In addition to other remedies, Rechichar sought punitive damages.

         Throughout the proceedings, PDS claimed that punitive damages could not be awarded as "appropriate relief" pursuant to Code § 40.1-51.2:2, the provision providing the remedies for violations of Code § 40.1-51.2:1. The court overruled PDS's demurrer and motions raising this issue and instructed the jury that it could award punitive damages.

         The jury returned a verdict in favor of Rechichar and awarded him both compensatory and punitive damages. The circuit court entered judgment for Rechichar pursuant to the jury's verdict. PDS appeals.

         Analysis

         PDS argues that Code § 40.1-51.2:2 does not allow punitive damages as a remedy for violations of Code § 40.1-51.2:1, so the circuit court erred in allowing the jury to consider punitive damages and in entering a judgment awarding punitive damages. Rechichar responds that Code § 40.1-51.2:2(B) allows for the award of punitive damages in this case as a form of "appropriate relief."

         This appeal presents an issue of statutory interpretation, so we review the circuit court's decision de novo. Conyers v. Martial Arts World of Richmond, Inc., 273 Va. 96, 104, 639 S.E.2d 174, 178 (2007).

When the language of a statute is unambiguous, we are bound by the plain meaning of that language. Furthermore, we must give effect to the legislature's intention as expressed by the language used unless a literal interpretation of the language would result in a manifest absurdity. If a statute is subject to more than one interpretation, we must apply the interpretation that will carry out the legislative intent behind the statute.

Id. at 104-05, 639 S.E.2d at 178 (citations omitted).

         Code § 40.1-51.2:1 states, "No person shall discharge or in any way discriminate against an employee because the employee has filed a safety or health complaint or has testified or otherwise acted to exercise rights under the safety ...


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