Punitive Damages Limited by Reprehensibility of the Defendant’s Conduct

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In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell (2003) 538 U.S. 408, the United States Supreme Court held that “‘the most important indicium of the reasonableness of a punitive damages award is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct.'” (Id. at p. 419.) Moreover, in Campbell, the high court noted that its “‘holdings that a recidivist may be punished more severely than a first offender recognize that repeated misconduct is more reprehensible than an individual instance of malfeasance.'”

In California punitive damages have long been a part of traditional state tort law. [Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. v. Haslip (1991) 499 U.S. 1, 15, 111 S.Ct. 1032, 113 L.Ed.2d 1 (Haslip)], and the states have “broad discretion” with respect to their imposition.