We have previously posted—for example, here, here, here, and here—about the thorny problem of avoiding excessive punishment when multiple plaintiffs seek punitive damages for the same course of conduct.  Johnson & Johnson is the latest corporation to face this issue.  Continue Reading Johnson & Johnson Hit With Two Huge Punitive Awards In Missouri Talcum Powder Litigation

As we noted in a post earlier this year, the Missouri courts seem to produce more than their fair share of opinions on punitive damages issues. About a year ago we wrote a post addressing the errors in the Missouri Supreme Court’s excessiveness analysis in Lewellen v. Franklin and a second post about the court’s holding in the same case that Missouri’s cap on punitive damages violates the state constitution as applied to common-law causes of action.

Set of auto partsToday’s topic is the Missouri Court of Appeals’ decision in Diaz v. AutoZoners, LLC.  Though adding to the bad case law on excessiveness, the decision makes some helpful law on the test for determining whether a parent company is an employer for purposes of employment-discrimination cases. Continue Reading Missouri Appellate Court Upholds Disproportionate Punitive Award Against One Defendant, While Tossing Punitive Award Against Co-Defendant

Self Employed ManThe Missouri courts seem to provide more than their share of material worthy of comment.  In Ross-Paige v. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, decided on June 30, a jury had found for the plaintiff, a St. Louis police officer, on her claim of retaliation under the Missouri Human Rights Act.  After the jury awarded $300,000 in compensatory damages and found the defendant liable for punitive damages, a second phase was held to set the amount of punitive damages.

The jury set punitive damages at a staggering and manifestly excessive $7.2 million, which was reduced under Missouri’s statutory cap of five times compensatory damages to about $2.5 million after attorneys’ fees were added to the compensatory damages.  (As noted in a prior post, the Missouri Supreme Court has declared the cap statute unconstitutional as applied to common-law actions, but has upheld it as applied to statutory causes of action such as that in the instant case.)

Continue Reading Missouri Court Of Appeals Finds Juror Research Into Who Receives Punitive Damages Awards Non-Prejudicial

In a post last week, Lauren Goldman discussed the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in Lewellen v. Franklin striking down Missouri’s cap on punitive damages as applied to common-law causes of action and promised that we would do a subsequent post addressing the court’s further holding that the punitive damages in that case were not unconstitutionally excessive.  This is that post.

Continue Reading Missouri Supreme Court Makes Fundamental Mistakes In Conducting Excessiveness Review Of Million-Dollar Punitive Award

Beverage bottle openedLast week, in Lewellen v. Franklin, the Missouri Supreme Court sharply restricted the reach of the State’s punitive damages cap statute, which limits punitive damages to the greater of $500,000 or five times the compensatory damages.  The court reasoned that applying the statute to common-law causes of action that existed prior to 1820, when Missouri adopted its Constitution, violates the plaintiff’s right to trial by jury.

Continue Reading Missouri Supreme Court Strikes Down State’s Punitive Damages Cap As Applied To Common-Law Causes Of Action

Judge Holding DocumentsIn a prior post, Andy Frey and I discussed the concern expressed by some defense lawyers that jurors in a bifurcated trial might bake punitive damages into their compensatory award because they are unaware that they will be able to impose punitive damages in a second phase.  We expressed the view that this concern can be readily addressed by instructing the jury before it deliberates in the first phase that, if it finds that the defendant acted with the requisite mental state, a second phase will commence to address the amount of punitive damages (if any).

The Missouri Court of Appeals’ decision last week in Advantage Buildings & Exteriors, Inc. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co. confirms both that the concern about inflation of the compensatory damages is a real one and that the solution is proper instruction of the jury.

Continue Reading Missouri Court Of Appeals Reverses Punitive Award Because Of Erroneous Instructions

On March 11, I joined Tiger Joyce, President of the American Tort Reform Association, and Dan Mehan, President and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, in a Washington Legal Foundation webinar about the issues raised in a recently filed petition for certiorari seeking review of a $2.1 billion Missouri state-court judgment.  You can view the webinar here.

Continue Reading Evan Tager Discusses Whether A Case Involving Baby Powder Might Yield The Next Blockbuster Supreme Court Punitive Damages Decision

Should divided panels of federal appellate courts really be deciding state-law issues of first impression? That’s what happened last month in Lindenberg v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co. In Lindenberg, two Sixth Circuit judges—over a lengthy dissent by the third member of the panel—resolved two state-law issues in a manner that expands the availability of punitive damages under Tennessee law. Continue Reading Sixth Circuit Invalidates Tennessee’s Punitive-Damages Cap and Holds That Punitive Damages Are Available Under Tennessee Law For Bad-Faith Denial Of Insurance Benefits

Usually, when a defendant gets a punitive award reduced to the same amount as the compensatory damages, it considers that a victory. But while such a reduction recently saved Johnson & Johnson $15 million, I don’t think that it should be satisfied with the result. Continue Reading Federal District Court Reduces Punitive Damages To Amount Of Compensatory Damages—But That’s Still Not Enough