April 9, 2008

San Diego Jury Awards $3.5 Million in Punitive Damages Against USAA

Today's LA Times has this story about a $3.5 million punitive damages award against USAA, an insurer that provides coverage for military personnel. The plaintiff, a Marine captain serving in Iraq, claims USAA mishandled a claim for damage to his home. The plaintiff deployed for his third tour in Iraq a few days before the verdict. After the verdict he thanked the jurors by phone.

The compensatory damages in this case are apparently only $134,000, which means the punitive-to-compensatory damages ratio exceeds 26 to 1. That would seem difficult for the plaintiff to justify on appeal. This doesn't seem like the sort of case where the compensatory damage award is so small that a higher ratio is justified. Indeed, the defendant may argue that, because the compensatory damage award is substantial and already includes a punitive component in the form of emotional distress damages, anything but a very low ratio would violate due process.