December 19, 2008

Kim v. Weston: Unpublished Opinion Reverses Punitive Damages Award

Stop me if you've heard this before, but the California Court of Appeal has reversed a punitive damages award because the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence of the defendant's financial condition. That makes at least four such reversals this year alone, arising from California's unique rule that plaintiffs must present meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition in order to obtain punitive damages. This rule has been part of California law since 1991, but it's amazing how many lawyers seem to be unfamiliar with it.

In this case, the plaintiff presented evidence that the defendant owned several rental properties, but that evidence was insufficient to create a complete picture of the defendant's financial condition because plaintiff failed to provide evidence regarding the profitability of the properties or any encumbrances on the property. Since the plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to present all her evidence at trial, she was not entitled to a retrial on the issue of punitive damages. The court directed entry of judgment for the defendant on the punitive damages claim.