Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Trial Judge's Reduction of Punitive Damages Award Overturned by Third Circuit Court of Appeals

In the case of Jester v. Hutt, 2019 U.S. App. Lexis 25998 (3d Cir. Aug. 28, 2019 Hardiman, J., Porter, J., Cowen, J.), the Third Circuit Court of Appeals vacated a granting of a motion for remittitur by the trial court that served to substantially reduce an award in favor of the Plaintiff.

According to the Opinion, the trial court had found that an award of $90,000.00 for punitive damages in a defamation case was constitutionally excessive where the jury only awarded $1.00 in actual damages.  The punitive damages award was reduced to $5,500.00.

The Third Circuit overturned the trial court and ruled that the constitutional ratio test for punitive damages does not apply to awards of nominal damages.  Higher ratios between nominal awards and punitive awards are to be expected. 

The Third Circuit reiterated that the touchstone for constitutional scrutiny of punitive damages awards is reasonableness.  The Court in Jester also noted that a comparison to similar cases is an accepted method of judging excessiveness of awards.

The Jester decision may be reviewed HERE.

I send thanks to Attorney James M. Beck, of the Philadelphia office of the Reed Smith law firm and the writer of the excellent Drug and Device Law blog for bringing this case to my attention.

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