March 9, 2011

Proposed bill would require that judges, not juries, determine the amount of punitive damages in California

California Assembly member Don Wagner has introduced a bill that would give trial courts exclusive authority to determine the amount of punitive damages awards in California.  The bill, Assembly Bill 556, provides that juries will continue to determine whether punitive damages can be imposed, i.e., juries will still decide whether the plaintiff has proved by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud.  But if the jury answers "yes" to that question, the jury would not be permitted to determine the amount of punitive damages.  That would be determined by the judge.

This is the first time I have seen anyone propose this type of bill in California.  Someone seems to propose a cap on punitive damages every year, but I don't recall seeing this one before.  This bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Assembly Judiciary Committee on March 22.