May 3, 2018

North Carolina plaintiffs gearing up to challenge state's cap on punitive damages (again)

Indyweek.com reports that attorneys suing Murphy-Brown LLC, a pork producer, are preparing to challenge the North Carolina statute that limits punitive damages to three times compensatory damages or $250,000, whichever is greater.

The plaintiffs won a verdict against Murphy-Brown last week in a nuisance case.  The 10 individual plaintiffs each won $75,000 in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages.  Under the statute, each punitive damages award must be reduced to a maximum of $325,000.  That would reduce the total judgment from $50.75 million to $3.25 million.

The plaintiffs' legal team thinks they can avoid that reduction by challenging the statute as unconstitutional.  They have an uphill battle.  The North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute back in 2004. But the plaintiffs argue that case doesn't apply here because it involved personal injuries, rather than nuisance claims.  They argue that the right to a jury trial under the North Carolina constitution is stronger in nuisance claims, and apparently, they believe that the right to a jury trial necessarily includes a right to unlimited damages.  As silly as that sounds, similar arguments have found a receptive audience in other states.