Punitive Damages Limited To Compensatory Award Where Plaintiff Not Vulnerable

In Jet Source Charter, Inc. v. Doherty, 148 Cal. App. 4th 1, 55 Cal. Rptr. 3d 176 (4th Dist. Jan. 30, 2007, modified Feb. 28, 2007), the plaintiffs successfully sued aircraft brokers for breach of fiduciary duty in selling them aircraft while willfully deceiving them concerning the price the brokers had negotiated with the sellers (and thereby making additional money on the side). The jury awarded approximately $5 million in compensatory damages, and more than $25 million in punitive damages against various defendants.

On appeal, the court held, “Where, as here, substantial compensatory damages have been awarded, and the conduct in question only involves economic damage to a single plaintiff who is not particularly vulnerable, an award which exceeds the compensatory damages awarded is not consistent with due process” under State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003).

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