CBA Record September 2018
Y O U N G L A W Y E R S J O U R N A L
In the second case, on March 2, 2016, the First District Appellate Court upheld a $2 million punitive damages award against Chicago State University. Frey, Andrew L., Tager, Evan M, Summers, Carl J, Illinois Appellate Court Upholds $2 Million Punitive Award Against Chicago State University, M AYER B ROWN ’ S P UNITIVE D AMAGES B LOG , April 11, 2016. Crow- ley involved a retaliatory-discharge claim by an administrative attorney at a public university. Crowley v.Watson, 2016 IL App (1st) 142847. Plaintiff claimed he was terminated in retaliation for responding to a FOIA request that required disclosure of documents that were embarrassing to the incoming university president. The jury agreed, awarding him $480,000 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. On appeal, the defen- dants argued that the punitive award was excessive under the Supreme Court’s due process guideposts. The appellate court rejected this argument, concluding that the conduct was highly reprehensible, and that the ratio was well within constitutional limits. As such, the jury’s punitive damages award totaling $2 million was upheld. Conclusion As juries have the ability to award seven- figure punitive damages awards to plain- tiffs, it is important for all attorneys to understand: (a) how a plaintiff can seek punitive damages, (b) what jurors con- sider in awarding punitive damages, and (c) how such an award can be upheld on appeal. And when evaluating a civil lawsuit, consider the possibility of a jury awarding punitive damages and whether such an award would be covered by defendant’s insurance policy (if applicable). Brett Geschke is a graduate of Notre Dame Law School, a member of SmithAmundsen's litigation team, and a member of the CBA's Professional Responsibility Committee.
unless actual or compensatory damages are recovered first. Tonchen v. All-Steel Equipment, Inc., 13 Ill. App. 3d 454 (2d Dist. 1973). That being said, room should be left for relatively high punitive damage awards in situations where particularly loathsome acts resulted in small amounts of measurable economic damages. Turner v. Firstar Bank, N.A., 363 Ill. App. 3d 1150 (5th Dist. 2006). Appeal If a jury awards a considerable measure of punitive damages, a defendant may want to appeal the jury’s award. The standard of review for an appellate motion related to a trial court’s remittitur of punitive damages is “abuse of discretion,” while an appellate motion related to a viola- tion of due process is de novo. Timothy J. Storm, Standards of Appellate Review in Illinois Civil Cases: A Summary Reference for Practitioners (2012 Ed.). In BMW v. Gore, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that constitutional prin- ciples embodied in the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment requires that reviewing courts use three “guideposts” to determine whether a punitive damage award is excessive: (1) The degree of reprehensibility; (2) The disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damage award; and (3) The difference between the puni- tive damage award and the civil penalties
authorized or imposed in comparable cases. BMW of N. Am. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559 (1996). Of these guideposts, the most impor- tant indicator of the reasonableness of a punitive damage award is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct. Illinois courts have adopted these guide- posts via Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Civil, No. 35.00 (Supp. 1997). Two noteworthy punitive damage awards have been appealed to the Illinois appellate courts within the past two years; both were upheld. In the first case, on June 28, 2018, the First District Appellate Court reinstated $3 million in punitive damages previously revoked by a judge after a forklift injury trial. Thomas Neuhengen v. Global Experience Specialists, Inc., 2018 IL App (1st) 160322. Thomas, David, “$3M in punitive damages restored after forklift-injury verdict cut,” Chi- cago Daily Law Bulletin. June 29. In that case, plaintiff Thomas Neuhengen was awarded a $15.2 million jury verdict, which included $3 million in punitive damages, following a September 2012 forklift injury. After the trial, the trial judge rescinded the $3 million in punitive damages after finding the plaintiff failed to prove the defendant’s conduct was willful and wanton. However, the appellate court found that plaintiff Neuhengen pre- sented enough evidence to show that GES’ conduct of assigning an insufficiently trained worker to use the Versa-Lift model forklift was egregious.
44 SEPTEMBER 2018
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