April 26, 2010

Oregon Jury Awards $18.5 Million in Punitive Damages Against Boy Scouts

The New York Times reports that an Oregon jury has awarded $1.4 million in compensatory damages and $18.5 million in punitive damages (a ratio over 13 to one) against Boy Scouts of America. The plaintiff alleged that he was molested by an assistant scoutmaster in the 1980s, and that the Boy Scouts allowed the perpetrator to participate in scouting events even after he admitted to a Scouts official that he had previously molested boys.

The Boy Scouts say they plan to appeal. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. The ratio is quite high, but Oregon appellate courts have historically been hostile to defendants challenging punitive damages awards. In addition, Oregon has a split-recovery statute that entitles the state to 60 percent of any punitive damages award. That makes these cases hard to settle, because regardless of what the parties want to do, Oregon will insist on getting its 60 percent of the punitive damages award (as it did in the cases described here, here, and here).