October 6, 2010

Kentucky appellate court holds that statutory limitation on punitive damages is unconstitutional

Although we focus primarily on California punitive damages litigation, we occasionally discuss interesting punitive damages decisions from other jurisdictions.  This recent opinion from Kentucky caught our attention.

In it, the court declares unconstitutional a Kentucky law that prohibits the award of punitive damages against a dram shop.  The decision is based on a provision of the Kentucky constitution which, as interpreted by the Kentucky courts, prohibits the state legislature from limiting the remedies available to plaintiffs in personal injury or wrongful death actions. 

That's a stark contrast to California law, where we have no such provision in the constitution and, as noted last week, our legislature has prohibited the recovery of punitive damages in all wrongful death actions (not just a subcategory of cases against a particular class of defendants).  So despite California's reputation for a pro-plaintiff litigation climate, here's at least one situation in which California law is not as plaintiff-friendly as another state.