July 2, 2009

Monier-Kilgore v. Flores: Yet Another Reversal Based on a Plaintiff's Failure to Prove the Defendant's Financial Condition

The California Court of Appeal (Third Appellate District) issued this unpublished opinion reversing $1.1 million in punitive damages because the plaintiff failed to introduce meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition. The plaintiff put on evidence regarding the plaintiff's income and bank deposits, but no evidence of the defendant's liabilities and expenses. The court found that without such evidence, the jury had no basis for determining the defendant's net worth or ability to punitive damages, especially since many of the defendant's assets would be needed to satisfy the compensatory damages award.

This is the third case in the past week in which a punitive damages award was reversed on this basis. (See our posts about the other two cases here and here.) It would have been four cases if the defense counsel in this case had not bailed out the plaintiff by presenting evidence of net worth after the plaintiff failed to do so.

I have lost count of how many unpublished cases we have seen on this issue since we launched this blog in January 2008. Perhaps its time for the courts to publish a few of these decisions, to remind trial lawyers of the importance of presenting meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition.