August 13, 2013

Unpublished opinion vacates $700,000 punitive damages award due to insufficient evidence of defendant's financial condition (Hackbart v. Uppal)

In this unpublished opinion, the California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) once again reverses a punitive damages award because the plaintiff failed to present meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition. 

The plaintiff presented evidence of the defendant's assets, income, earning capacity, future earning capacity, and the present value of his lifetime earnings.  But that was not enough.  There was no meaningful evidence of the defendant's liabilities.  Without such evidence " 'the jury was unable to 'assure that the award punishes but [would] not cripple or bankrupt [him].' " 

The plaintiff argued that the defendant waived the issue by failing to produce adequate information about his financial condition.  But the court rejected that argument because the record did not indicate that the defendant failed to comply with a court order or otherwise interfered with the plaintiff's ability to obtain evidence.  As a result, the court reversed the jury's $700,000 punitive damages award with directions to enter judgment for the defendant on the punitive damages claim.