January 20, 2009

Trial Court Reduces Punitive Damages from $40.4M to $8.5M for Marine Helicopter Crash

Last September we blogged about a San Diego jury that awarded $15.2 million in compensatory damages and $40.4 million in punitive damages against San Diego Gas & Electric Company in case involving a helicopter crash that killed four Marines. The trial court in that case, after hearing post-trial motions, has reduced the punitive damages down to $8.5 million, but has otherwise left the verdict intact.

As reported by the San Diego Union Tribune, the crash occurred when the Marines' helicopter hit a utility tower located on Camp Pendleton during a nighttime training exercise. The plaintiffs blamed SDG&E for not installing safety lights on the tower. SDG&E argued that they complied with the Marine Corps' request to light certain towers on Camp Pendleton, but the Marine Corps never asked SDG&E to light the tower in question, which had been in place for 25 years.

The trial court, in its posttrial order, found sufficient evidence to support the award of punitive damages, but found that that SDG&E's conduct did not warrant a $40.4 million penalty.

Unfortunately, we can't provide much commentary or analysis, because the litigation is ongoing and our firm represents SDG&E in this matter.