December 11, 2008

Radiologist Asks for $1 Billion in Punitive Damages Against Kaiser

The Los Angeles Independent reports that plaintiffs' attorney Charles T. Mathews has asked a jury to award $1 billion in punitive damages against Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Southern California Permanente Medical Group. The defendants are accused of trying to silence the plaintiff, a radiologist, who complained about the performance of staff at the Kaiser Sunset hospital in Hollywood. The jury has already ruled for the plaintiff on the issue of liability and awarded $3.9 million in compensatory damages.

If the jury accepted the invitation to award $1 billion in punitive damages, that award would be roughly 260 times the compensatory damages (and possibly higher if the compensatory damages will be further reduced based on an allocation of fault). Savvy plaintiffs' lawyers generally don't invite juries to award ratios like this, because a ratio that high would be closely scrutinized on appeal and would almost certainly be reversed. By contrast, a modest punitive damages award in the low single-digit range would not draw the same sort of immediate skepticism from appellate justices.