Eye PoppingIn a post a few weeks ago, I reported on a verdict by a federal jury in Atlanta awarding $1 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages against the manufacturer of a hip implant. Not to be outdone, on December 14 a state-court jury in California awarded $9.8 million in compensatory damages and an eye-popping $70 million in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon in a case alleging defects in a hemorrhoid stapler used to perform surgery on a hemorrhoid suffer.
Continue Reading California Jury Awards $9.8 Million In Compensatory Damages And $70 Million In Punitive Damages In Hemorrhoid Stapler Case

Earlier this week, a federal jury in San Diego imposed a punitive damages award of $185 million against AutoZone in a case alleging pregnancy discrimination and retaliatory discharge.  The punitive damages are a whopping 212 times the $872,000 in compensatory damages that the jury awarded for lost wages and emotional distress.

Set of auto partsNeedless to say, it is exceptionally unlikely that anything close to $185 million will survive post-verdict and appellate review.  I have not yet had the chance to review anything other than media accounts about the case, but based on them a few things about the verdict jump out at me as being relevant to readers of this blog—all of which my colleagues and I have covered in previous posts.


Continue Reading Jury Imposes $185 Million Punitive Award Against AutoZone In Individual Pregnancy Discrimination Case

The lawyer for the plaintiff in a punitive damages case frequently asks the jury to return a particular amount of punitive damages.  Often the requested amount is very large—far more than the plaintiff realistically expects to recover, and certainly greater than the Constitution would permit.

Concept-Stuck_Anchor_16353254LargeThis strategy has a clear purpose:  Suggesting an arbitrary large number sets the jury’s “frame of reference” and anchors its assessment of the proper amount of punishment.  A substantial and mounting body of social science research demonstrates that jurors exposed to high numerical “anchors” return much higher awards—even if those anchors are self-evidently arbitrary, and even if they are presented to jurors as “limits,” “caps,” or “maximums.”  The plaintiff’s request has the effect of starting the jury’s discussion at the suggested level—even if the request bears no relationship at all to the facts or the evidence in the case.


Continue Reading Anchors Aweigh: The Prejudicial Impact Of An Outsized Request For Punitive Damages