Punitives should reflect actual loss, ATLA argues.ATLA ATLA Association of Trial Lawyers of America
ATLA American Theological Library Association
ATLA American Trial Lawyers Association
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ATLA Avatar: The Last Airbender members continue to deal with defense efforts to capitalize on the U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell. Justice Anthony Kennedy suggested that "in practice, few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages A sum of money awarded in a civil action by a court to indemnify a person for the particular loss, detriment, or injury suffered as a result of the unlawful conduct of another. " will satisfy due process. Defendants have seized on this dictum to shield themselves against jury verdicts based on the facts.
An example is Simon v. San Paolo U.S. Holding Co., a California case in which the plaintiff alleged that he was defrauded in a real estate deal. (No. S121933 (Cal. filed Oct. 8, 2004).) Although the deal that went sour would have yielded a $400,000 profit for Simon, California law limited his recovery to his out-of-pocket expenses out-of-pocket expenses n. moneys paid directly for necessary items by a contractor, trustee, executor, administrator or any person responsible to cover expenses not detailed by agreement. : $5,000. However, the jury also awarded punitive damages Monetary compensation awarded to an injured party that goes beyond that which is necessary to compensate the individual for losses and that is intended to punish the wrongdoer. of $1.7 million. The defendant is arguing in the California Supreme Court that the 340-to-1 ratio violates due process.
In October, ATLA filed an amicus curiae brief Noun 1. amicus curiae brief - a brief presented by someone interested in influencing the outcome of a lawsuit but who is not a party to it
brief, legal brief - a document stating the facts and points of law of a client's case , prepared by Jeffrey White of the Center for Constitutional Litigation An action brought in court to enforce a particular right. The act or process of bringing a lawsuit in and of itself; a judicial contest; any dispute.
When a person begins a civil lawsuit, the person enters into a process called litigation. , arguing that when assessing punitive damages the appropriate comparison is with the plaintiff's $400,000 actual loss.
Courts have reviewed punitive damages for excessiveness--at least since their inception in English law The system of law that has developed in England from approximately 1066 to the present.
The body of English law includes legislation, Common Law, and a host of other legal norms established by Parliament, the Crown, and the judiciary. and throughout the 19th century--by looking for a reasonable relationship to the actual harm done to the plaintiff, not to the compensatory award. In fact, courts often upheld punitive damages precisely because compensatory damages in that era did not fully compensate a plaintiff for intangible harms such as emotional distress or outrage.
The law today generally aims to make the plaintiff whole. In such cases, the jury's compensatory award is a reliable measure of the harm the defendant caused. But in some instances compensatory damages undervalue the actual harm--for example, in wrongful-death or injury cases where tort "reform" statutes cap damages.
In such cases, due process does not limit the court to a ratio of punitive to compensatory damages, but allows it to ask whether the relationship between punitive damages and the actual harm to the plaintiff is reasonable. ATLA is arguing that this reasoning applies in Simon.