April 28, 2008

Tual v. Blake: California Court of Appeal Reduces Civil Judgment Against Actor Robert Blake From $30 Million to $15 Million

Once again we're reporting on a celebrity punitive damages case. This time, the celebrity is Robert Blake, and the case involves his appeal from a $30 million wrongful death judgment against him in a suit brought by the estate of his deceased wife, Bonny Lee Bakley.

In this unpublished opinion, the Second Appellate District, Division Three, rejects most of his arguments, including his argument that the trial court improperly refused to instruct the jury not to award punitive damages. The jury did not actually award punitive damages per se, but apparently Blake was arguing that the jury's $30 million compensatory damages award must have included a punitive damages component, and that the jurors would have awarded a lesser amount if they had been told that punitive damages were off the table. The court rejected that argument because the record did not indicate why the trial court failed to give Blake's proposed instruction. The record showed that Blake requested the instruction and that the court did not give the instruction, but the Court of Appeal said it was Blake's burden on appeal to provide a record showing why the court did not give the instruction. Because he failed to meet that burden he did not preserve the issue for appeal.

Nevertheless, the court did afford Blake some relief. It concluded that the $30 million compensatory damages award was excessive and it gave the plaintiff the option to either accept a reduced sum of $15 million or go back to the trial court for a new trial on damages.