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Punitive Damages in California

In Roby v. McKesson Corp., the California Supreme Court held that under the facts of that case, the ratio of punitive damages to compensatory damages should not exceed one-to-one. The Court referenced guidelines set forth in the United States Supreme Court case of State Farm v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 425 (2003), suggesting that in cases where the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct is relatively low, while compensatory damages are relatively high, the due process clause may limit punitive damages to the amount of the compensatory damages.

That may now be the “rule” in California, a rule that should lend some predictability to the enforceability of punitive damages awards. Only in cases where the defendant’s conduct was unusually egregious, and the plaintiff’s compensatory damages relatively low, would plaintiffs now expect the courts to enforce punitive damages awards in excess of this one-to-one ratio.

 

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