By David W. Tate
In Bullock v. Philip Morris (California Court of Appeal,
Second District, Case No. B222596) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers / unenhanced version available from lexisONE Free Case Law] the court affirmed a punitive damage
award that is 16 times compensatory damages. The jury ultimately
awarded Bullock $850,000 in compensatory damages and $13.8 million in
punitive damages. As you may be aware, pursuant to recent case law
guideposts punitive damage awards generally are allowed in the range of
3 to 4 times compensatory damages and as an outside measure should not
exceed 9 times compensatory damages as punitive damages must bear
reasonable relation to compensatory damages.
I have included this case discussion because punitive damages are
warranted in some elder abuse cases, and some of the justifying factors
in Bullock also are present in select elder abuse cases.
Betty Bullock smoked cigarettes for 45 years from 1956 until she was
diagnosed with lung cancer in 2001. In 2001, Bullock filed suit against
Philip Morris. Bullock sought to recover damages for personal injuries
based on products liability, fraud and other theories. Bullock died in
Pursuant to the holding in Bullock, in some cases there are
exceptional factual circumstances that warrant the allowance of larger
punitive damages as a multiple of compensatory damages: the evidence
indicated that the defendant knew that the consensus was that cigarette
smoking caused lung cancer and other serious diseases, and that smokers
suffered lung cancer and other serious diseases at rates far greater
than nonsmokers-despite that knowledge, defendant conducted a
campaign to obscure and deny the truth. The court also held that larger
punitive damages were warranted because of the defendant's wealthy
financial condition, the profitability of its misconduct, defendant knew
and hid for a long period of time the dangers of its product, and the
injuries caused to plaintiff were physical or mental in nature, not
economic. According to the court, the evidence indicated that
defendant's behavior was "extremely reprehensible."
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DAVID W. TATE, ESQ.
Blogs: http://davidtate.wordpress.com; http://californiaestatetrust.wordpress.com
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