October 30, 2013

Court of Appeal reverses $500,000 punitive damages award because plaintiff failed to provide evidence of the defendant's financial condition at the time of trial (Oggi's Pizza v. Durrant)

This unpublished opinion from the California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District, Division One) reminds us that plaintiffs seeking punitive damages must not only introduce meaningful evidence of the defendant's financial condition, but they must present evidence of the defendant's finances at the time of trial.

The trial in this case took place in December 2011.  The plaintiff presented evidence that the defendant had a net worth of $2.2 million as of June 2009.  Plaintiff's counsel did not ask the defendant (who testified during the punitive damages phase of trial) about his current assets or liabilities.  The plaintiff introduced a copy of the defendant's most recent tax return, but that showed only his income, not his assets or liabilities.

That evidence was not enough to sustain the jury's punitive damages award, according to the Court of Appeal.  The court reversed the $500,000 punitive award and directed the trial court to enter judgment in favor of the defendant on that issue.