October 12, 2020

Court of Appeal vacates $725k punitive damages award due to improper expert testimony (Margeson v. Ford)

In this Lemon Law case, a jury awarded the plaintiff roughly $72,500 in compensatory damages, $142,000 in civil penalties, and $1.4 million in punitive damages (20 times the amount of compensatory damages). The trial court reduced the punitive damages to $725,000 (10 times the compensatory damages) and Ford appealed.

In an unpublished opinion, the Court of Appeal (Second District, Division Five) vacated the punitive damages award and ordered a new trial on the amount of punitive damages. The court found that the trial court had improperly allowed expert testimony from the plaintiff’s forensic accountant, who purported to advise the jury on how to properly calculate punitive damages. The Court of Appeal ruled that the expert’s testimony usurped the role of the jury in determining the amount of punitive damages and usurped the role of the trial court in instructing the jury on the law of punitive damages.
I won’t comment on the court’s analysis, because Horvitz & Levy represents Ford in this case.