Punitive Damages

Punitive Damages: Conflict of Laws

By on February 9, 2015 - Comments off

Scott v. Ford Motor Company, (First District, March 26, 2014 | Certified for Partial Publication) 2014 WL 1244358 — Cal.Rptr.3d —-                 

A former owner and operator of multiple service stations filed an action against Ford Motor Company, alleging that exposure to asbestos while servicing brakes and clutches supplied by Ford had caused him to develop mesothelioma. The plaintiff asserted various products liability theories, including failure to warn, design defect, and negligence, as well as fraud.   

When the plaintiff attempted to introduce Ford’s annual report to support his claim for punitive damages, Ford argued that the trial court should apply Michigan law, which unlike California, does not permit punitive damages unless specifically authorized by statute. Using a government interest analysis, the trial court agreed with Ford, and concluded that  Michigan’s interest as embodied in its prohibition of punitive damages would be more impaired if its law were not applied under the circumstances than would California’s interest in allowing a claim for punitive damages. The court ruled the annual report inadmissible and precluded the claim for punitive damages.

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Punitive Damages: Ration Relative to Compensatory

By on October 1, 2011 - Comments off

Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., (Second District, August 17, 2011) — Cal.Rptr.3d —-, 2011 WL 3599605, 11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 10,492

A woman who contracted lung cancer after smoking for over 40 years filed suit against Philip Morris, alleging that the cigarettes were negligently and defectively designed and that the defendant failed to adequately warn her of the dangers of smoking. The plaintiff also alleged that the defendant intentionally and negligently misrepresented to the public and the medical and scientific community the adverse health effects of smoking, and concealed material facts relating to the dangers of cigarettes. A jury found that Philip Morris was guilty of malice, fraud or oppression with respect to each count, and awarded Bullock $850,000 in compensatory damages, as well as $13.8 million in punitive damages.

On appeal the Defendant contended that the punitive damages award was constitutionally excessive, and that a ratio of one-to-one would be appropriate in light of the substantial compensatory damages award. However, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, holding that in light of the “extreme reprehensibility of Philip Morris’s misconduct, including the vast scale and profitability of its course of misconduct, and its financial condition,” an award of approximately 16 times the compensatory damages was justified and not unconstitutionally excessive:

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Posted in: Punitive Damages



Punitive Damages: Ratio to Compensatory Damages

By on January 15, 2010 - Comments off

Roby v. McKesson Corporation, (Supreme Court of California, November 30, 2009) 47 Cal. 4th 686, 219 P.3d 749, 101 Cal.Rptr.3d 773, 22 A.D. Cases 1041, 09 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 14,189, 2009 Daily Journal D.A.R. 16,712

A woman who alleged she was wrongfully discharged from her employment because of her medical condition and related disability, filed an action against her employer seeking damages for harassment and discrimination. Following a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiff which included over $3 million in compensatory damages and $15 million in punitive damages, the court of appeal reduced the award of compensatory damages to $1.4 million and the punitive award to $2 million.

The plaintiff petitioned for review in the California Supreme Court, asserting that the jury’s entire $15 million award fell within constitutional limits and should be reinstated. However, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeal and reduced the award of compensatory damages to $1.9 million, concluding that due the relatively low degree of reprehensibility on the part of the employer, a one-to-one ratio between compensatory and punitive damages was the constitutional limit:

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Posted in: Punitive Damages