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I win! No -- I win! California applies State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance v. Campbell

California has tested the limits of punitive damages in two recent state supreme court decisions, Simon v. San Paolo U.S. Holding, and Johnson v. Ford Motor. State supreme justices essentially reduced a $1.7 million verdict to $5,000 and a $10 million verdict to $53,435 plus a visit to an appellate court for more review, respectively. (Here's the Law.com Newswire report.)

According to J. Craig Williams, however, these decisions demonstrate that, for plaintiffs and defendants and the attorneys crafting their cases, the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark ruling in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance v. Campbell is still up for interpretation: 

"[T]hose decisions also left states some wiggle room, and wiggle California has done.

"In response to the pair of California cases on punitive damages, Plaintiffs' lawyers claim it's a win and Defense lawyers claim it's a win. Yes, I know the last two links are exactly the same; that's my point.

"Nobody's quite sure yet.

"Do we still have some more wiggling to do? Here's how Justice Werdegar put it: 'California law has long endorsed the use of punitive damages to deter continuation or imitation of a corporation's course of wrongful conduct, and hence allowed consideration of that conduct's scale and profitability,' she said in the Johnson case. 'We do not read the high court's decisions, which specifically acknowledge that states may use punitive damages for punishment and deterrence, as mandating the abandonment of that principle ...'"

More here.

Posted by Laurel Newby on June 20, 2005 at 09:47 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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