January 26, 2016

Recent California punitive awards: $6.5 million against yoga guru and $62.5 million against drunk driver

Law360 is reporting (subscription required) that a Los Angeles jury awarded $6,471,000 in punitive damages today, on top of $924,000 in compensatory damages, in a sexual harassment case against a yoga guru.  According to the article, the defendant tried to avoid the punitive damages award by claiming to be penniless, but the jurors apparently didn't buy that theory.  The article says the jurors laughed at the defendant's testimony that he built his fleet of luxury cars himself using parts he bought in junkyards. 

The defendant may have better luck arguing that the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages is too high, especially considering that the compensatory damages award already contains a punitive component in the form of a large award for noneconomic damages.

Another Southern California jury was even more generous in awarding punitive damages last week.  The Ventura Star reported last Friday that a jury in Oxnard awarded $125 million, half of which is punitive damages, to a man who was injured by a drunk driver.  According to the story, the plaintiff's lawyer concedes that the punitive damages are not collectible because the defendant, who is in prison, probably doesn't have $62.5 million.