July 30, 2008

Proposed Revisions to California Punitive Damages Jury Instructions

The California Judicial Council's advisory committee on civil jury instructions (aka the "CACI committee") has circulated a set of proposed revisions to the CACI instructions, including proposed changes to the instructions dealing with the amount of punitive damages.

The proposed changes to the text of the punitive damages instructions are minor - - the committee proposes taking language that already appears in the instructions (instructing the jury under Philip Morris v. Williams not to punish the defendant for harm to nonparties), and moving that language to the end of each instruction as a stand alone sentence.

The committee also proposes adding additional authorities to the "Sources and Authority" section that follows each punitive damages instruction. The committee proposes: (1) adding a quote from footnote 21 in Bullock v. Philip Morris regarding the proper and improper uses of evidence of harm to others, and (2) adding several quotes from State Farm v. Campbell, including the point that the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages should not exceed single digits, and the point that one-to-one may be the maximum ratio in cases with substantial compensatory damages.

Given the minor nature of these revisions (rearranging existing text in the instructions and adding quotes from authorities), they shouldn't generate much controversy. The deadline for public comments is August 29.