New CA Punitive Damage Case

punitive damages Jul 19, 2022
 
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Punitive Damages

Punitive damages may be recovered under California law, but California attorneys should be careful to seek an award that is likely to be upheld on appeal. Last month, the Third District Court of Appeal published a new case addressing when a punitive damage award can be excessive in light of the evidence. A video discussing the case is above and my summary of the case is below.

New Punitive Damages Decision  

Doe v. Lee (2022) 79 Cal.App.5th 612: The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s punitive damage award of $230,400 based upon insufficiency of the evidence, and  directed the trial court to vacate the punitive damage award and otherwise affirm the judgment. Plaintiffs brought an action against defendant alleging various forms of invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress, violation of Penal Code section 635 (which penalizes the use of devices to eavesdrop on the telephone communications of others without permission), trespass to real property, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. After a bench trial, the court found for plaintiffs awarding them $24,758 in past and future economic damages, $800,000 in noneconomic damages and $230,400 in punitive damages. The Court of Appeal concluded the punitive damages award could not stand because there was insufficient evidence of defendant’s financial condition to support it, and what little evidence was provided regarding his financial condition suggested the award was excessive. The Court of Appeal found that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s conclusion that defendant retained a 1/6 interest in a Limited Liability Company worth roughly $230,400. However, the record did not show that defendant had any other assets to his name. It did not contain any record or analysis of defendant’s liabilities or expenses. It did not show that he had a source of income that would enable him to pay off the compensatory damages award, cover his necessary expenses, and pay the punitive damages award without rendering him destitute. (C.A. 3rd, filed May 13, 2022, published June 6, 2022.)  

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Monty A. McIntyre, Esq.
California Case Summaries™
Mediator, Arbitrator & Referee
CA Civil Trial Attorney Since 1980
ABOTA Member Since 1995
Past President San Diego County Bar Assn., SD ABOTA Chapter
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