Order Conditionally Granting Motion For New Trial As To Punitive Damages Filed in Candace Conti Case

by DNCall 35 Replies latest jw friends

  • Diest

    I had thought about a judgment reduction and not posted it before. The Jury granted $7 Million in compensatory damages. The WTS is only on the hook for $2.8 million dollars of that those damages, yet they have to pay $21 million dollars in punitive damages. That makes the punitive damages 7.5 times the compensatory damages.

    When deciding on punitive damages the courts have said that punitive damages should usually be lower than 4 times the compensatory damages if they are to remain Constitutional. So it is likely that the WTS could have the damages reduced to $8.4 million in punitive damages (a 3 times multiple) and $2.4 million in compensatory damages. $10.8 million is still a lot but it is dramatically less than the original amount.


    Punitive damages are a settled principle of common law in the United States. [16] They are generally a matter of state law (although they can also be awarded under Federal maritime law), and thus differ in application from state to state. In many states, including California and Texas, punitive damages are determined based on statute; elsewhere, they may be determined solely based on case law. Many state statutes are the result of insurance industry lobbying to impose "caps" on punitive damages; however, several state courts have struck down these statutory caps as unconstitutional. [17]

    The general rule is that punitive damages cannot be awarded for breach of contract. But if an independent tort is committed in a contractual setting, punitive damages can be awarded for the tort. [18] Punitive damages are usually reserved for when the defendant has displayed actual intent to cause harm (such as purposefully rear-ending someone else's car), rather than in cases of mere negligence. [19]

    Punitive damages are a focal point of the "tort reform" debate in the United States, where numerous highly-publicized multi-million dollar verdicts have led to a fairly common perception that punitive damage awards tend to be excessive. However, statistical studies by law professors and the Department of Justice have found that punitive damages are only awarded in two percent of civil cases which go to trial, and that the median punitive damage award is between $38,000 and $50,000. [17]

    There is no maximum dollar amount of punitive damages that a defendant can be ordered to pay. In response to judges and juries which award high punitive damages verdicts, the Supreme Court of the United Stateshas made several decisions which limit awards of punitive damages through the due process of law clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In a number of cases, the Court has indicated that a 4:1 ratio between punitive and compensatory damages is high enough to lead to a finding of constitutional impropriety, and that any ratio of 10:1 or higher is almost certainly unconstitutional.

    In Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants (1994), a very high and therefore often criticized amount of damages were awarded to a woman who burned herself with hot coffee she purchased from McDonald's.

    In BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore (1996), the Court ruled that an excessive punitive award can amount to an arbitrary deprivation of property in violation of due process. The Court held that punitive damages must be reasonable, as determined by the degree of reprehensibility of the conduct that caused the plaintiff's injury, the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages, and any comparable criminal or civil penalties applicable to the conduct. In State Farm Auto. Ins. v. Campbell (2003), the Court held that punitive damages may only be based on the acts of the defendants which harmed the plaintiffs. The Court also elaborated on the factors courts must apply when reviewing a punitive award under due process principles.

    Most recently, in Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007), the Court ruled that punitive damage awards cannot be imposed for the direct harm that the misconduct caused others, but may consider harm to others as a function of determining how reprehensible it was. More reprehensible misconduct justifies a larger punitive damage award, just as a repeat offender in criminal law may be punished with a tougher sentence. Dissenting in the Williams case, Justice John Paul Stevens found that the "nuance eludes me," suggesting that the majority had resolved the case on a distinction that makes no difference.


  • 144001

    I found it. It is case number HG11558324.

    The Alameda County court webpage provides much more access to the public than most courts' webpages do. The order will be available live on the court's website, probably in the next couple of business days.

    Those who underestimate counsel for the WTBTS are entirely ignorant of the realities of the legal world. The WTBTS was well represented. Jackson Lewis is a huge law firm with an incredible amount of legal resources at its disposal to accomplish the objectives of its wealthy clientele. The WTBTS had to pay a lot for the representation they had in the Conti case.

    Obtaining a large jury verdict at trial against a law firm of Jackson Lewis' size and stature is a very impressive accomplishment for Candace Conti's lawyer, Mr. Simons.

    It is a huge loss for the WTBTS. They paid a fortune in legal fees, only to have the case result in a $28 million judgment against them. It will be interesting to see whether Ms. Conti and her counsel will accept the remittitur determined by the court or whether they will choose to go through a new trial limited to the issue of the amount of punitive damages to be awarded. Of course, that decision will be very much dependent upon the amount of the remittitur determined by the court.

    The bigger hit to the WTBTS is in the world of public relations. This case is an ugly blemish on their reputation.

  • CaptainSchmideo

    To paraphrase Jesse in "Breaking Bad" last week:

    '10.8 million isn't "nothing"! '

  • 144001


    Wikipedia is generally a great first stop on the research trail, but not in the legal world. The idea that punitive damages are limited to a ratio of 4:1 to compensatory damages or any other bright line ratio test was rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court in the BMW case referenced in your Wikipedia quote:

    " Of course, we have consistently rejected the notion that the constitutional line is marked by a simple mathematical formula, even one that compares actual and potential damages to the punitive award. TXO, 509 U.S., at 458, 113 S.Ct., at 2720.FN37 Indeed, low awards of compensatory damages may properly support a higher ratio than high compensatory awards, if, for example, a particularly egregious act has resulted in only a small amount of economic damages. A higher ratio may also be justified in cases in which the injury is hard to detect or the monetary value of noneconomic harm might have been difficult to determine. It is appropriate, therefore, to reiterate our rejection of a categorical approach. Once again, “we return to what we said ... in Haslip: ‘We need not, and *583 indeed we cannot, draw a mathematical bright line between the constitutionally acceptable and the constitutionally unacceptable that would fit every case. We can say, however, that [a] general concer[n] of reasonableness ... properly enter[s] into the constitutional calculus.’ ” Id., at 458, 113 S.Ct., at 2720 (quoting **1603 Haslip, 499 U.S., at 18, 111 S.Ct., at 1043). In most cases, the ratio will be within a constitutionally acceptable range, and remittitur will not be justified on this basis. When the ratio is a breathtaking 500 to 1, however, the award must surely “raise a suspicious judicial eyebrow.” TXO, 509 U.S., at 481, 113 S.Ct., at 2732 ( O'CONNOR, J ., dissenting). " BMW of North America v. Gore (1996) 517 U.S. 559, 582 - 583.

  • Diest

    Thanks 144001. This would certainly be a place where " the monetary value of noneconomic harm might have been difficult to determine." I dont have access to West or Lexis right now.

  • 144001

    <<<< Even so, 75% of Conti's punitive damages will be paid to a state fund and she will get only 25%.>>>


    I'm not aware of any law in California that would require that 75 % of the punitive damages awarded to the plaintiff in the Conti case must be paid into a State fund. Can you provide a reference to the authority supporting this?

  • 144001


    I have access to both, so I have an unfair advantage.

    I'm curious to see how Conti's lawyers (Mr. Simon) respond to the court's order. I'm speculating that if the remittitur is indeed very significant, they'd probably go for the new trial on the damage amount.

    I admire Mr. Simon's work on this case and the incredible result he achieved.

    Edited to add: Diest, you have a pm.

  • Joe Grundy
    Joe Grundy


    "I admire Mr. Simon's work on this case and the incredible result he achieved."

    So do I, though I know nothing of US federal or state law.

    Thank you for this information. Can you please confirm my understanding that:

    1. the granting of this motion does not affect in any way the finding of the fact of civil liabilty on the part of the defendants;

    2. the 'compensatory damages' (presumably based on the actual and/or potential 'losses' - e.g. cost of counselling, compensation for pain and suffering, etc.) are unaffected;

    3. the ONLY point to be reconsidered is the amount of punitive damages (i.e. the monetary amount awarded as a punishment against the defendant and to act as a deterrent against similar future behaviour by the defendant or others);

    4. the Court (presumably the Judge sitting alone) will reconsider the punitive damages awarded by the jury in the light of staute and case law and in the light of any other relevant awards (presumably these issues were explained to the jury before and/or during their deliberations) and may arrive at a lower figure; and

    5. the lower figure is put before the plaintiff, who can decide to accept it or to elect for a re-trial on the issue of the amount of punitive damages ONLY.

    (Supplementary questions, but I'd love to know!) - Does the court have the power to revise the punitive damages amount upwards, and if the plaintiff elects to reject the Court's (lower) amount, is the retrial on this issue by jury? If so, does that jury have the power to revise the amount upwards?

    Thank you in advance. I owe you a beer or two!

  • Justitia Themis
    Justitia Themis


    I'm not aware of any law in California that would require that 75 % of the punitive damages awarded to the plaintiff in the Conti case must be paid into a State fund. Can you provide a reference to the authority supporting this?

    Punitive Damages State-by-State Guide § 7:15 (2011 ed.)

    Under California law, punitive damages are generally recoverable, except in actions for wrongful death. To obtain an award of punitive damages in California, malice must be proved. In order to obtain an award of punitive damages in California, this conduct must be shown by clear and convincing evidence. California courts use the governmental interest rule to resolve tort conflict of law issues. However, when faced with contract conflict of law issues, California courts use the vested rights rule. If application of the vested rights rule is obscure, California courts use the most significant relationship rule to resolve contract conflict of law issues. Directly assessed punitive damages are not insurable under California law. However, California has yet to determine the insurability of vicariously assessed punitive damages. As of August 16, 2004, by statute, 75% of a punitive damage award is paid into a Public Benefit Trust Fund, and 25% is paid to plaintiff(s). 1

    Footnote 1 cites the Code: Cal. Civ. Code § 3294.5.

  • 144001


    Cal. Civ. Code § 3294.5. was repealed by its own terms, operative July 1, 2006. It is inapplicable to Conti.

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