Alkire v. First National Bank of Parsons, 475 S.E.2d 122 (W. Va. 1996).
Pity Larry Alkire, the supposed thief. He made the night deposits for two businesses and one deposit fell into a gap between the night deposit box and the wall. A grand jury failed to find enough evidence to indict him, but he was ostracized in Tucker County, West Virginia for years.
Larry’s family tried to get the bank to see if it was possible for a bag to get stuck. The bank said they tried that and it didn’t work. However, as the West Virginia Supreme Court stated “[t]he Bank was not telling the truth.” The bank never did test to see if a bag might get stuck. They found the missing deposit bag wedged in the wall years later and didn’t tell Larry. In fact, Larry never would have known the bag had been found at all if not for an anonymous phone call.
Larry sued the bank for negligence, gross negligence, and fraud. The jury awarded him $210,000 in compensatory damages and $1,050,000 in punitive damages. The court ultimately remanded the case as to the amount of the award, but agreed that punitive damages were appropriate.
It’s an interesting human story of a family that didn’t give up when everyone said Larry was a thief. Plus, along the way, the West Virginia Supreme Court called on the lower courts to stop applying the “really mean” and “really stupid” test to punitive damage awards, which is interesting on its own.