July 31, 2008

Plaintiff Can Obtain Discovery of Defendant's Finances Without Establishing Prima Facie Case for Punitive Damages, Federal Judge Rules

Law.com is reporting that U.S. District Judge James M. Munley of the Middle District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a plaintiff seeking punitive damages can obtain discovery of a defendant's financial condition without making a prima facie showing that the punitive damages claim is bona fide. Judge Munley recognized that the defendant's financial documents could contain "sensitive" information, but he nonetheless concluded that the defendant had not established good cause to prevent discovery of those documents. (The case is Grosek v. Panther Transportation Inc. You can view the opinion here.)

In California, this issue is resolved by statute. Civil Code section 3295, subdivision (c), precludes discovery of the defendant's financial condition unless the plaintiff can establish "a substantial probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim" for punitive damages.