Last summer, my colleague C.J. Summers and I posted a report about Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association, a Seventh Circuit case in which we had filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States.

In late November 2019, the Seventh Circuit issued an opinion reducing the punitive damages to a 1:1 multiple of the compensatory damages, agreeing with both the bottom line and a good deal of the analysis in our brief. And in late January 2020, the court denied the plaintiff’s rehearing petition.
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Last October, I reported on the $8 billion punitive verdict returned by a Philadelphia jury against Johnson & Johnson in a case alleging that the company had failed to warn that its antipsychotic drug Risperdal could cause young men to develop breasts.

I expressed the view that a punishment of this size in an individual case is proof positive that the jury was animated by passion and prejudice and that a reduction of the punitive award would therefore be an inadequate remedy.

Regrettably, the trial court overlooked the fact that preposterous awards like this are indicative of a malfunctioning jury and instead merely reduced the punitive damages to $6.8 million—ten times the compensatory damages.
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By now, you’ve probably read reports of the $8 billion punitive verdict against Johnson & Johnson in an individual case alleging failure to warn that young men using its antipsychotic drug Risperdal could develop breasts.  Robot-like, virtually every article about the verdict says that the verdict is likely to be reduced because it is disproportionate to the $680,000 award of compensatory damages.
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Although the Supreme Court identified three guideposts for evaluating whether a punitive award is unconstitutionally excessive 23 years ago in BMW v. Gore and refined those guideposts 16 years ago in State Farm v. Campbell, lower courts continue to make conceptual errors interpreting and applying the guideposts. The Seventh Circuit will have the opportunity to address and rectify several such errors made by a district court in upholding a $3 million punitive award in Saccameno v. U.S. Bank National Association.
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Over the years, we have reported on many cases in which courts adhered to the Supreme Court’s guidance in State Farm (and Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker) that, when compensatory damages are “substantial, a 1:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages may be the maximum that due process allows. Recently, however, two state courts deviated from that trend and held that a 2:1 ratio was the constitutional maximum.
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Louisiana generally does not permit punitive damages. But if an accident happens on navigable waters, and the plaintiff brings a claim under federal maritime law, a Louisiana jury can award punitive damages, and Louisiana courts then must decide the full panoply of issues that arise in punitive damages cases.  That’s what happened in Warren v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co.

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In Gomez v. Cabatic, the New York Appellate Division, Second Department, affirmed the imposition of punitive damages in a medical malpractice case based on the defendant’s destruction of documents in an effort to avoid liability. But it ordered a remittitur of the large punitive award to $500,000—an amount equal to the compensatory damages.
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