Blockbuster Punitive Awards Fell Off In 2009
Professor Jeffrey Fisher is quoted in this Daily Journal article on the decline in large punitive damage awards:
Will 2009 become known as the year blockbuster punitive damages awards died?
The jury is still out, so to speak, but one thing's for sure - California didn't see any blockbuster awards, defined as punitive damages of more than $100 million, last year.
Attorneys say the lack of blockbuster awards was probably more of an anomaly than a sign we've seen the last of them. However, powerful forces have been working to tamp down what some see as runaway jury verdicts in a state traditionally considered plaintiff friendly.
The largest punitive damages award last year was an estimated $50 million (the actual figure was sealed) in a Los Angeles County business fraud case. In that case, jurors also awarded hefty compensatory damages of $300 million to Douglas Shooker of Auerbach Acquisition Associates Inc., who claimed he was cheated out of a stake in payment processor iPayment Inc. by CEO Greg Daily.
"The reality is that in order to get punitive damages of $100 million or more, you need to have very significant damages," said Stanford Law School professor Jeffrey L. Fisher. "There just aren't that many cases that have damages that are that high."
Fisher, as a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine, helped reel in one of the nation's largest-ever punitive damages awards in a case that finally came to a close last year after 20 years of litigation. ExxonMobil Corp. paid $507.5 million as punishment for its infamous Alaskan oil spill. Interest and costs swelled the total amount to more than $1 billion. Exxon Shipping Corp. v. Baker, 2009 DJDAR 8630.
In reviewing the Exxon verdict and others, the U.S. Supreme Court has given more direction in recent years about how it views big punitive damages verdicts, which could encourage settlements, Fisher said.