September 23, 2010

Uzyel v. Kadisha: An increase in compensatory damages does not entitle plaintiffs to a new trial on punitive damages

This published opinion holds that a plaintiff cannot take advantage of a procedural rule adopted for the benefit of defendants. 
We have previously blogged about California's rule that, when a defendant gets hit with both compensatory damages and punitive damages, and a court later reduces the compensatory damages, the defendant is entitled to a reduction of the punitive damages (or possibly a retrial on punitive damages, depending on the reason why the compensatory damages were reduced).  That's the general rule, although we have seen some inconsistent decisions in this area.  The rationale behind the rule is to ensure that the punitive damages bear a reasonable relationship to the reduced compensatory damages award.  
In this opinion from the Second Appellate District, Division Five Three, the court holds that when a trial court or appellate court increases the compensatory damages, the plaintiff is not entitled to a proportionate increase in punitive damages, nor to a retrial on punitive damages to try for a larger amount.
Full disclosure: Horvitz & Levy represents the defendant on appeal in this case.