July 20, 2011

Wisonsin Supreme Court affirms $5 million punitive damages award in jerky family dispute.

As we've previously reported, a Wisconsin jury awarded $5 million in punitive damages to the son of Jay Link, the aptly named founder of a meat snacks company. The son proved a breach of fiduciary duty claim based on allegations that the father squeezed him out of the family's beef jerky business.

As recounted in several publications, including a write-up by the Courthouse News Service, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has now agreed with the intermediate appellate court that Mr. Link's challenge to the award was procedurally defective because his new trial motion was filed two minutes after the normal 4:30 p.m. closing time for the clerk's office. Although the clerk accepted the filing as timely, the high court held the clerk had no discretion to do so, and that the trial court therefore had no authority to enter its order reducing the damages to $736,000.

As they say, "timing is everything." The delay in filing comes out to a more than $2 million-per-minute mistake, assuming that other proceedings on remand (concerning the underlying fiduciary duty claims) don't indirectly lead to some relief from the punitive damages award.