April 23, 2009

The Largest Punitive Damages Award to Survive Appeal in California?

When the California Supreme Court dismissed review yesterday in Buell-Wilson v. Ford, it may have set a new high for punitive damages in California. Unless the Court of Appeal has a dramatic change of heart or the U.S. Supreme Court intervenes, it appears that Ford will have to pay $55 million in punitive damages, which appears to be the largest punitive damages award to survive appeal in California.

To our knowledge, these five cases represent the largest punitive damages awards that California appellate courts have allowed to stand:

1. Buell-Wilson v. Ford (2008) [depublished]: $55 million

2. Boeken v. Philip Morris (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1640: $50 million

3. Rufo v. Simpson (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 573: $25 million

4. Vann v. Travelers (1998) [unpublished]: $25 million

5. Paine Webber v. Fireman's Fund (1997) [unpublished] $21 million

It's possible there may be some others we don't know about, especially since the older unpublished opinions are not available on Westlaw, but based on our firm's experience in handling these types of cases, we're fairly confident this list is accurate. If anyone knows of a case that's missing from the list, please let us know. (Keep in mind that we're talking about the post-appeal numbers; we know that California juries have awarded verdicts that would top anything on this list, but those awards did not survive appeal.)