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Punitive Damages in WhistleBlower and Retaliation Cases

A recent case, Izell vs. Union Carbide Corporation, has upheld a punitive damages award of 18 million dollars, even though the compensatory portion of the verdict was reduced by the trial judge from $30 to $6 Million. This is very good news for all California employees who win punitive damages based on whistleblower or retaliation.

Izell involved exposure to asbestos alleged supplied by defendant Union Carbide. (This company is no stranger to Danz & Associates, as I was one of the lead counsel in the mid-80s case of Citizens of Bhopal, India vs. Union Carbide, which resulted in a settlement of over $500 million). The California Court of Appeals held that as long as the US Supreme’ Court’s ratio of not exceeding a single -digit is observed (ie, no more than 9 times compensatory damages), then the award is not grossly excessive. Court smay look to the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s misconduct. Looking at both the degree of reprehensibility and the proportion of compensatory to puntive, the new ratio of 462:1 is not presumptively invalid. The reprehensibility of defendant’s conduct was esgablished by the fact that the plaintiff contracted terminal cancer. further, that the company failed to warn consumers of these dangers.

Our employment law pleadings nearly always seek punitive damages for reprehensibile and grossly negligent conduct. The California test is whether the conduct was engaged in by an “officer, director or managing agent”, and if so, whether it was done with “malice, oppression, or fraud”. ¬†We are pleased to report that sufficient punitive damages will still be available even if the jury award is reduced by the trial judge (or presumptively, on appeal).

As California’s leading employment law firm representing whisleblower plaintiff-employees only, we take our obligation to remain at the leading edge of employee rights seriously. Give us a call if you’ve been retaliated against for whistle blowing. 877 789-9707.