March 5, 2008

Commentary on Holdgrafer v. Unocal Opinion

The Cal Biz Lit Blog has a post analyzing our recent win in Holdgrafer v. Unocal, summarizing the central holding as follows: "State Farm held that dissimilar incidents were not admissible to prove the amount of punitive damages. The California court held that dissimilar incidents are inadmissible to prove the entitlement to punitive damages." The Metropolitan News makes the same point: "Reversing a $5 million dollar punitive damage award against the Unocal Corporation, Div. Six held that the due process proscription against the introduction of 'dissimilar acts' in punitive damages cases must apply to both the jury's predicate determination of whether a defendant is liable for punitive damages as well as its assessment of the amount of damages to be awarded."

I have one quibble with the Cal Biz Lit Law post; it suggests that the fact that the trial court reduced the punitive damage award from $10,000,000.76 to $5,000,000 shows that the San Luis Obisbo courts are "conservative." Considering the Court of Appeal's conclusion that the entire award was invalid for failure to comport with due process, I am not sure that the trial court's reduction by half constitutes a "conservative" result. On the other hand, as I have blogged about previously, considering that two of the most "conservative" justices on the United States Supreme Court do not believe that there is any due process limitation on punitive damages, perhaps it is "conservative" to affirm high punitive damage awards.

The local San Luis Obispo paper describes the opinion here.