February 16, 2018

Proposed bill would authorize tripling of civil penalties in cases involving minors (AB 2015)

California assembly member Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego) has introduced a bill entitled "Punitive damages: minors," which would authorize tripling of civil fines and penalties in cases involving minors.

The law would apply to any civil penalty or remedy if (a) the purpose is to punish and deter and (b) the amount is subject to the trier of fact's discretion.  In such cases, the trier of fact could decide to increase the amount by a factor of three, if any of these factors are present:

(1) The defendant knew or should have known that his or her conduct was directed to one or more minors.

(2) Minors are substantially more vulnerable than other members of the public to the defendant’s conduct and actually suffered harm from the defendant’s conduct.

(3) The conduct involved the crimes of prostitution, pimping, and pandering.

It is not entirely clear how this bill, if enacted, would interact with current punitive damages law.  Punitive damages fall into the category of civil remedies that are designed to punish and deter.  And the amounts of such awards are within the discretion of the trier of fact, at least to an extent (subject to state and federal limitations on excessive awards).  Therefore, it appears that this bill would apply to punitive damages, but of course the state legislature cannot override the federal constitutional limitations on punitive damages.  So to the extent this bill would authorize an award in excess of those limitations, federal law would take precedence.

The status of the bill can be tracked here.