Our Services

When Are Punitive Damages Awarded In California Insurance Disputes?

In lawsuits, plaintiffs are typically compensated for their actual losses through compensatory damages. When a jury finds that a defendant's behavior is truly outside the bounds of acceptable conduct, punitive damages may be awarded.

For hundreds of years, courts have used punitive damages to punish and deter outrageous behavior. At Pillsbury & Coleman, LLP, in San Francisco, California, our attorneys have won landmark insurance law cases that include millions of dollars in punitive damages.

  • $26.5 million verdict against the Travelers Insurance Company. One of the largest punitive damage verdicts in the country in 1997, this verdict included $25 million in punitive damages. Travelers unsuccessfully appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
  • $32 million verdict against UnumProvident. Including $30 million in punitive damages, this verdict was the largest jury verdict in the history of Marin County by a factor of more than three, the largest disability insurance claim verdict in California history, and the second largest verdict in the nation in a UnumProvident lawsuit.

A Ruling That Puts California Policyholders At Risk

The law on punitive damages is now in flux as a result of United States Supreme Court's ruling in State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408 (2003), and cases that have followed and interpreted it.

Many courts have interpreted the Campbell case as replacing clear standards for when punitive damages are appropriate and the range of punitive amounts that are permissible with a confusing set of "guideposts" which exaggerate the importance of the ratio between punitive damages and the compensatory damages in a case. Pillsbury & Coleman works diligently to pursue, where appropriate, punitive damages which actually serve to punish and deter corporate abuses against our clients.

Without the threat of significant punitive damages, insurance companies will have little incentive to change the way they treat policyholders. Truly reprehensible behavior will become the norm. Paying relatively modest sums in verdicts and settlements will become a line item in their budgets — the cost of doing business.

Two of our articles offer further reading on these matters:

Contact Pillsbury & Coleman, LLP

Be assured that our attorneys will continue to fight for punitive damages for our clients and for the right for all plaintiffs to receive them. To discuss your insurance-related concern, please contact us by email today, or call us at 415-655-1549 or toll free at 866-460-7279.