December 15, 2011

Rex Heeseman op-ed about Bullock in today's Daily Journal

Los Angeles superior court judge Rex Heeseman, who frequently writes opinion pieces on insurance law and punitive damages, has written an op-ed that appears in today's Daily Journal (subscription required to access article).  Judge Heeseman's piece examines the likely impact of the recent Bullock opinion, which upheld a 16 to 1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages.  Interestingly, he writes that the majority opinion's analysis is "arguably contrary to Campbell," to the extent that the majority folded the defendant's financial condition into the BMW guidepost analysis.   (We struck the same note in our amicus filing on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.) 

Ultimately, Judge Heeseman predicts that plaintiffs will cite Bullock to show that ratios can exceed 9 to 1 in cases of "extreme" reprehensibility, and defendants will argue that Bullock should be limited to its particular facts.  That sounds about right with respect to trial court litigation. I would add that, when those cases go up on appeal, defendants will argue that the majority opinion in Bullock should not be followed by other appellate courts because it is out of step with federal and state law, as pointed out in Justice Kitching's dissenting opinion.