In the last issues I began a multi-issue review of cases that address the dischargeability of debts regarding property damage-malice. The relevant bankruptcy code provision is §523(a)(6). I briefly established the standard used by courts to determine dischargeability of debts involving property damage. The standard is very fact specific so reviewing cases will shed light on how the standard is applied.
In Appalachian Equipment & Supply Co. v. McDaniel, the United States Bankruptcy Court at Harrisonburg, Virginia, determined that the creditor/plaintiff, a rental company, had satisfied all of the elements necessary to prove its case under Bankruptcy Code §523(a)(6), and thus, its claim for damages from the improper use of the forklift was declared exempt from discharge.
The Court in McDaniel ruled that the physical evidence was the most reliable evidence offered. That evidence showed that the forklift was delivered to the debtor in normal operable condition. It also showed that when the creditor picked up the forklift, it was damaged and displayed light blue paint on the bottom of the carriage. The debtor's evidence showed that one of the vehicles which was placed on the tractor trailer was a light-blue car. To the Court, it appeared more likely than not that the bottom portion of the carriage of the forklift was used in conjunction with attempting to crush the light-blue car such that paint flecks from the car attached themselves to the underside of the carriage. The Court indicated that it was satisfied that the expert testimony of the witness for the creditor established that more likely than not that the carriage of the forklift was used to apply hydraulic pressure in a downward direction with such force that the carriage boon and forks of the forklift were damaged. In conclusion, the Court found that the debtor used the carriage to accomplish his intent to crush cars, such use was inconsistent with the normal usage of the forklift, and such usage led to the damage of the forklift. The Court further found that the creditor proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the debtor's actions in using the forklift were intentional.
The Court in McDaniel found that the debtor knew that a forklift should not be used to crush cars. The physical evidence and the expert evidence offered by the creditor were more persuasive than the debtor's attempts to deflect blame to another person. It showed that the debtor applied the boon portion of the forklift to employ downward hydraulic pressure to the crush the cars. The Court ruled that it was satisfied that the debtor used the forklift in an improper manner to crush the cars in order to load them onto his flatbed trailer. The Court found that the debtor was an experienced forklift operator. He brought equipment to the site which could have been used to safely crush the cars. He used the forklift in a manner inconsistent with the generally accepted practice for the usage of this type of forklift. In light of these surrounding circumstances, the Court ruled that the debtor knew, or should have known, that his acts would cause damage to the forklift and resulting harm to the creditor. Thus, the Court ruled that the debtor's actions fit the definition of malice as set forth in the case of St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Vaughn, the standard for denial of discharge.