July 23, 2010

$200 Million Punitive Damages Award Vacated

A Los Angeles superior court judge has vacated the $200 million punitive damages award that a jury awarded against Certainteed back in April.

The judge's ruling on posttrial motions states that a complete new trial on all issues is required because no substantial evidence supports the jury's determination that a nonparty tortfeasor was 0% at fault for the plaintiff's injuries. According to the judge, undisputed evidence established that some fault should have been assigned to that nonparty.

Although the ruling orders a complete new trial, it also addresses some punitive damages issues, in recognition of the fact that the new trial order could be reversed on appeal. The order states that substantial evidence supports the jury's finding that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud within the meaning of Civil Code section 3294. But the order also states that the amount of the award was grossly excessive, and that the maximum permissible punitive damages award on the facts of this case is $5.9 million (equal to the amount of the compensatory damages award, after reducing the compensatory damages to account for allocation of fault).