May 21, 2010

Oliver v. Pacific Real Estate: Default Judgment Awarding $292,717 in Punitive Damages Affirmed

In this unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal (Fifth District) affirmed a default judgment that includes a $50,000 punitive damages award.

The appellant asked the court to strike the punitive damages award because the plaintiff did not comply with Code of Civil Procedure section 425.115. Under that statute, a plaintiff cannot obtain punitive damages in a default judgment unless the plaintiff serves the defendant with a statement requesting a specific amount of punitive damages. The idea is to notify the defendant of the amount at stake so the defendant can decide whether to put up a fight.

In this case, the plaintiff did not serve a statement of damages as described in section 425.115. But he did attach a document to his complaint indicating that he sought $500,000 in punitive damages. The court said that was close enough to satisfy section 425.115.