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LawPundit at New York Times Topics Organizations : Headlines Around the Web on December 1, 2009 : Punitive Damages and U.S. Supreme Court Standards

The New York Times picked up our previous LawPundit parody posting on the U.S. Supreme Court’s standard on punitive damages and its application to a concrete case by the California Supreme Court – a link to that posting currently appears on the NYTimes U.S. Supreme Court page as follows (we have added the red arrow and circle):

We have appeared in these headlines before, but as experience shows, we can be quickly replaced as time marches on and new postings replace the old ones, so be nimble and quick.

Note that we previously posted at length at LawPundit about the abuse of punitive damages in the courts. See US Supreme Court Vacates Absurd Punitive Damages Award in Oregon Tobacco Case : What American Law Should Learn from European Law.

Don’t Go to Work and Make Millions by Staying at Home : The Caliphonia Supreme Court Shows the Way : Panic Disorder and Punitive Damages

Just as a matter of law, I think that this is an airy parody….

In a whiffy opinion written by Justice Canard (sic), the Caliphonia (sic) Supreme Court has issued a decision in which punitive damages were awarded in the same amount as the already greatly inflated compensatory damages, relying on the standards set out in State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Campbell (2003) 538 U.S. 408. The court, in issuing its decision, was not disturbed by the fact, as the opinion writes, that “discrepancies suggest that the jury did not really understand the various categories of damages listed on the special verdict form.” Or, as the legal sceptic of the American jury system might say, who cares what the jury understood.

See a synopsis of this case in An Appeal to Reason.

See also Robber (sic) v. McKesson: Cal. Supreme Court Reduces Punitive Damages to 1-to-1 Ratio.

In the instant caliphony case, compensatory damages of $1,905,000 and an equal amount in punitive damages were awarded in circumstances involving an employee who suffered from “panic disorder” and “body odor”, allegedly through medication. That same employee, because of this malodorous medical disorder, and without required advance notice, would often simply not show up at work for extended periods of time on days where “panic” befell her, leading – perhaps unsurprisingly – to a strained relationship with her direct supervisor, who – the court found – demeaned the employee by reporting negatively to fellow workers time-and-again that the employee was “absent again”. This was not reported happily. The court leaves this standard unexplained. Is it demeaning to report that someone is “absent” at all? and how many absences make the report “demeaning”? Can the absence no longer be reported, let us say after 3 absences? Does one have to smile and bear it after the 4th absence?

In any case, for the company involved, that was a million dollar mistake.

In this case the court also awarded punitive damages in a ratio of 1:1 to the compensatory damages, so that the total award was ca. $3,800,000 – not bad for a few days of skipping work.

Compensatory damages? Punitive damages? Leveled against people stinky about someone stinky not doing their job? Where is there a pure connection to odiferous real life??

Let us ask a simple question. How much does a normal employee earn in a LIFETIME??

Should judgment awards bear ANY relation to that figure in determining compensatory damages for events which occur in the workplace? How possibly can damage awards be higher than an employee’s possible lifetime earnings? For what possible reason?

How many people at any given company have to work for how long to fund an award like this? Do exorbitant awards violate the due process of other employees if such awards have no sane bearing to economic realities?

Someone pays for such judicial awards, and that someone is made up of those who work, honestly, day to day, to produce the products that are needed to make the profits from which such absurdly inflated judgments must be paid.

The judges in cases like this must live in a deluded never-never financial land of milk and honey where money is seen to flow unceasingly out of bottomless company coffers at the bidding of a Robin Hood focused court order. Never mind the economics.

Coincidentally, I was talking to an acquaintance just yesterday about a similar case. He told me about a former neighbor of his – Jane Doe – who used to work at the same company where he still works, and where he will probably be employed for the rest of his professional life. He is a nice guy but has trouble understanding how the world works.

He was on a client call in the wealthiest neighborhood in town, and the client turned out to be his former neighbor, who now lives in an “adorable” French-style mansion with 7 bedrooms. It is rumored that Lion Forest occassionally drops by. She also had several new luxury cars parked in the long half-oval-shaped driveway on a magnificent lot overlooking the city in the valley below. She had just returned from a vacation trip around the world, basking at the close for several months in the Bahamas, and was radiant and suntanned to the hilt.

My acquaintance told me that he had initially assumed that she had married into wealthy circumstances, which turned out not to be true. Who marries for money?

He could recall the time that they were neighbors when he saw her occasionally on his off days in the middle of the work week, where she could be seen – only from his back yard – bikini sunbathing on her secluded veranda. Hmmm. These were the days when Lion Forest also appeared.

He had wondered how she got so much time off from work in the same company where he was employed himself, and he had even asked her about it once, receiving the reply that she suffered from a rare disorder and needed the sun for her “skin condition”.

A few days ago he had learned from a friend in a chance conversation that Jane Doe’s money did not come from a wealthy marriage but from a million-dollar compensatory and punitive damages court case in which she had sued the company for mobbing her at her place of work. Her supervisor had been repulsed by her stinky panic outbreaks in the workplace.

She would break out into hives and perspire profusely if she even thought about her job and then she would scratch herself in nervous fits of employment fear, especially when at work.

She hated working, everyone had known that. Fear of work was widespread, but still, people had made fun of her condition, and that could not be tolerated. She was SO sensitive.

Her cousin, a wealthy and experienced lawyer, had sued on her behalf for reprehensible harassment, only asking to be paid a percentage of the verdict in case they won. Otherwise, he had represented her for free. Such a doll. You have to know the law. She showed THEM.

The jury awarded her $1,000,000. The court on appeal doubled it to $2,000,000. And when the case came to her State’s Supremes, the judges fell all over themselves to point out the great wealth of the employing company and how such “exploiters” had to be taught a mighty lesson for being mean and nasty to someone suffering from an unpleasantly odiferous psychological and medical ailment. JOB PANIC SYNDROME. That was the diagnosis. It was a terrible fate. They doubled the award to $4,000,000, with equal parts compensatory and punitive damages. Nobody at the company cared, it was not THEIR money either. Someone would pay.

One of the judges, Justice Wergreed, had even written: “Wealth alone cannot justify judicial plunder of company coffers, but we should seek to soak these rich exploiters as much as possible if they have offended one of their employees by insisting upon work.”

Ever since then, Jane Doe had lived on easy street, and reportedly laughed in private at the “stupid jerks”, although it was not clear who she was referring to.

I looked at my acquaintance in the sad realization that he would – thankfully for him – never realize the full impact of the catastrophe that had befallen him. Rightly seen, he and his entire department would – in fact – be working for the rest of their lives at Jane Doe’s former company in order to create the profits needed to pay for the court’s award of damages to Jane Doe. He was your average, honest, hard-working American drone, oblivious to reality, suffering the most reprehensible harassment of all – a life devoted – indirectly – to having to work to pay off a stupid and vastly inflated court judgment for an employee playing hooky.

By the way, my acquaintance had observed in online financial charts and news that the salary of the company executives had increased threefold since that court judgment, although the wages of the workers had flattened out – not enough money it seems to pay for wage increases. In fact, things are in recession. I am speaking here of course, of the company of my acquaintance, and not of McKesson.

News Research : Most Searched New York Times Words and Phrases – The New York Times : Last 24 Hours : Last 7 Days : Last 30 Days

The New York Times has a page which references the most popular search terms at the NYTimes in the last 24 hours, the last 7 days and the last 30 days – updated hourly at Most Searched New York Times Words and Phrases – The New York Times.

At the time of this posting, for the last 24 hours, the search for Tiger Woods leads the search for health care, which is otherwise the top search term the last 30 days, followed by Obama and China. The most popular term the last 7 days was of course Thanksgiving.