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How much punitive damages can I win?

We have blogged in the past in Los Angeles Employment Lawyer about punitive damages under California’s Civil Code, Sections 3294 and 3295. Just to refresh, punitive damages are available if an “officer, director or managing agent engaged in “malice, oppression or fraud” in the conduct upon which the jury based their decision. The harder question, which has been addressed (but never really refined) in several recent court decisions, is “how much” will the court allow a jury to impose (or give itself if the court is sitting as the trier of fact)?

The US Supreme Court breathed new life into this debate with its State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. vs. Campbell decision in 2008. In that case, the court opined that an award of punitive damages greater than four times the amount of actual (“compensatory”) losses might be about all the Constitution would allow without being excessive. (The US Supremes have also stated that punitive damages must be based on harm to the individual plaintiffs and not based on “harm to persons other than the plaintiff” (Phillip Morris vs. Williams, 127 vs Court 1057 (2007). ┬áThe California Supreme Court appears to be more focused on the degree of reprehensibility of the conduct and has stated as much in Simon vs. San Paulo U.S. Holding Co., Inc., 35 Cal 4th 917 (2005). A similar opinion was put forth in Johnson vs. Ford, 35 Cal 4th 1191 (2005), where the court reminded readers that repeat conduct (“recidivism”) can be curtailed by healthy punitive awards.

Seems like cigarette companies that continue to draw the largest punitive damages awards. In Bullock III (Philip Morris the court of appeals here in California supports s 16:1 ratio. The court stated that “we do not regard the amount of compensatory damages as a fixed upper limit….:Rather, the court reminded that the constitutional limit depends on the facts and circumstances of each case.

In determining the proper amount upon which to base the punitive damages multiplier, keep in mind that contract breaches do not provide a basis for punitive damages. As such, attorneys representing plaintiffs (as we have done in winning punitive damages for our clients), should exclude any breach of contract (ie, damages under a policy).

We are energetic, happy warriors when it comes to winning punitive damages for our clients who have been victims of sex harassment, wrongful termination, and discrimination. Let us chat with you about how much your case may be worth. Let Los Angeles Employment Attorneys review your case.