October 12, 2020

Court of Appeal reverses $1 million punitive damages award against Chrysler (Santana v. FCA)

 I'm catching up on the unpublished opinions that came out the past few weeks.  

In this one, the plaintiff brought lemon law and fraud claims against FCA (Chrysler) in connection with alleged electrical problems in a 2012 Dodge Durango.  A jury awarded $32,000 in economic damages on the lemon law claim, $134,000 in economic damages on the fraud claim, and punitive damages of $1 million. Chrysler appealed, arguing among other things that the plaintiff failed to present any substantial evidence of fraud.

The Court of Appeal (Fourth District, Division Three) agreed and reversed all the fraud damages, including the punitive damages, in an unpublished opinion. The court said the plaintiff failed to present any evidence that Chrysler fraudulently concealed material information. The evidence showed at most that Chrysler was aware of electrical issues that had occurred different vehicles and was working on fixing the problem.  Because that evidence could not support a finding of fraudulent concealment, and that tort was the sole support for the punitive damages award, the court vacated the punitive damages.

Horvitz & Levy represents FCA in other matters, so I won't comment on the court's analysis.

Update (10/28/20): the Court of Appeal has now changed the status of the opinion from unpublished to published