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
When the Supreme Court agrees to hear a punitive damages case, that’s always news—even when the case involves something as arcane as the availability of punitive damages under maritime law.
But the Court’s grant of certiorari in Dutra Group v. Batterton on December 7 is all the more noteworthy because it will be the first punitive damages case in which Justices Alito, Sotomayor, Kagan, Gorsuch, and Kavanaugh will have participated as members of the Court. (Justice Alito was a member of the Court when it decided Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker—coincidentally , another maritime case—but recused himself.)
The question that the Court will decide in Dutra is whether a seaman covered by the Jones Act may recover punitive damages in connection with an unseaworthiness claim. The maritime-law doctrine of unseaworthiness provides a cause of action to seamen who are injured due to their employer’s failure to provide a seaworthy vessel. This strict-liability cause of action exists alongside the Jones Act, which provides a cause of action for seamen injured or killed as a result of their employers’ negligence. Continue Reading Supreme Court To Decide Whether Punitive Damages May Be Awarded In Connection With Unseaworthiness Claims
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
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. Continue Reading Is 2:1 The New 1:1?
In State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Campbell, the Supreme Court strongly implied that in some cases even a 1:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages might be too high. In Torres v. B/E Aerospace, Inc., the California Court of Appeal took that hint to heart. Continue Reading California Court Of Appeal Affirms Remittitur Of Punitive Damages To Lower Than 1:1 Ratio
Only three months after AbbVie obtained a retrial of a case in which a jury had imposed $150 million in punitive damages without awarding any compensatory damages, a new jury awarded the same plaintiff $200,000 in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages. Continue Reading New Jury Imposes Disproportionate Punitive Award In AbbVie Retrial
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.
We reported on a bunch of eye-popping punitive awards in 2017. There have been further developments in a number of those cases. Though we may provide more comprehensive discussions of some of those developments, here is a quick update. Continue Reading Updates On Verdicts About Which We Reported In 2017
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
The Ninth Circuit recently issued an unpublished memorandum opinion reducing a $2.5 million punitive award against GEICO to $1,064,282.44—four times the compensatory damages—in a Montana insurance bad-faith case. When it comes to punitive damages doctrine, the decision is a mixed bag. Continue Reading Ninth Circuit Issues Mixed-Bag Decision On Punitive Damages In Insurance Bad-Faith Case