May 26, 2012

Unpublished opinions reject defendants' arguments about inability to pay punitive damages (Miracle v. Mehrban and Landeros v. Torres)

We frequently report on California appellate decisions that reverse or reduce punitive damages because the plaintiff failed to produce meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition.  A few weeks ago we reported on the Bankhead decision, which bucked that trend and affirmed a large punitive damages award against a company with a negative net worth.  This week brought two more decisions bucking the same trend:

In Miracle v. Mehrban, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, affirmed a $30,000 punitive damages award against an individual who claimed a negative net worth.  The trial court didn't believe the defendant's testimony about her net worth and the Court of Appeal declined to revisit that credibility determination on appeal.

In Landeros v. Torres, the Fifth Appellate District affirmed $14,000 in punitive damages based on evidence that the defendant, who owned no assets, had $7,000 in a retirement account, a home with no equity, and a job that paid $8 an hour.  The court said this was a "close case," but that the evidence demonstrated the defendant's ability to pay the punitive damages award.  The court partially certified the opinion for publication, but did not certify the part containing the punitive damages analysis.

Disclosure: Horvitz & Levy represents the defendant in Landeros.