Making important law on the question of vicarious liability for punitive damages, the Fourth Circuit recently reversed awards of punitive damages under Title VII and North Carolina law in Ward v. AutoZoners.

The case involved alleged peer-on-peer sexual harassment at an AutoZone store. Keith Ward, an AutoZone employee, reported to multiple supervisors that a coworker, Christina Atkinson, had targeted him repeatedly for lewd remarks and inappropriate physical contact. Ward alleged that the supervisors took ineffective action in response, causing him to suffer anxiety, stress, and chest pains that required medical attention.
Continue Reading Fourth Circuit Reverses Findings Of Vicarious Punitive Liability Under Title VII And North Carolina Law

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

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.

Continue Reading Louisiana Supreme Court Wades Into Punitive Damages In Maritime Context

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.
Continue Reading New York Appellate Division Allows Punitive Award Based On Post-Injury Spoliation of Evidence But Reduces Ratio to 1:1

In a recent decision in In re Paulsboro Derailment Cases, the Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a case brought by plaintiffs who alleged that they had been exposed to airborne chemicals following a train derailment. This decision turned on the panel’s conclusion that the plaintiffs had not asserted a valid punitive-damages claim. The decision provides a useful reminder that state-law substantive standards for punitive liability have teeth. 
Continue Reading Third Circuit Issues Helpful Decision On Punitive Liability Under New Jersey Law

Carbon-monoxide-3D-ballsLately, we have had many occasions to criticize courts’ analysis of punitive damages issues, so it is nice for a change to be able to report on the Tenth Circuit’s insightful decision in Lompe v. Sunridge Partners.  Readers may recall that we published a post about our amicus brief for the Chamber of Commerce in this case about a year ago.  I am pleased to report that the court adopted virtually all of the argument and analysis set forth in the amicus brief.
Continue Reading Tenth Circuit Reduces Punitive Award By More Than Ninety Percent In Carbon Monoxide Case

Buckle upCases in which an appellate court holds that a state’s standard for punitive liability was not satisfied even though there was sufficient evidence to support liability for the underlying causes of action are regrettably rare. But in Nissan Motor Co. v. Maddox, the Kentucky Supreme Court recently did just that and in the process set forth some principles that may be helpful to defendants in future cases.

Continue Reading Kentucky Supreme Court Sets Forth Helpful Principles On Liability For Punitive Damages

West Virginia Flag as the territory Map on the Black BackgroundWest Virginia long has been at or near the top of the Chamber of Commerce’s and American Tort Reform Association’s lists of judicial hellholes. Last month, the State took a big step toward changing its image, enacting a series of laws that aim to eliminate “jackpot justice.”

Most pertinent to readers of this blog, the Legislature passed and the Governor signed a punitive damages statute that comprehensively reshapes the manner in which this remedy is administered in West Virginia.


Continue Reading West Virginia Enacts Punitive Damages Statute

Many states restrict punitive damages to situations in which the defendant either intended to injure the plaintiff or disregarded a substantial risk of injury.  Regrettably, courts often misapply the latter basis for punitive damages in a way that undermines its function of limiting punitive damages to cases of truly egregious misconduct.

In his opinion for the Seventh Circuit in Jentz v. ConAgra Foods, Inc., the ever-insightful Judge Easterbrook recently took a step to reverse the tide.


Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Issues Important Decision On “Hindsight Bias” In Punitive Damages Cases