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Ben Glass
Ben Glass
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$100,000 Punitive Damage Award "OK"–Virginia Supreme Court

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Two 20-year employees of General Electric Company ended up in a fight at the plant. One of the employees put his hands on the other’s chest and violently slammed him against the concrete wall causing his cap and safety glasses to go flying and a “knot” on his head to develop. The employee who had been knocked down sued, claiming that he had suffered personal injury and was humiliated knowing that his coworkers saw him get knocked down. He also claimed that he had lost his job because of this altercation.

The City of Chesapeake jury heard the case and awarded the plaintiff $240,000.00 in compensatory damages and $100,000.00 in punitive damages. The trial judge however reduced the compensatory damages to $1,000.00 and the punitive damages to $10,000.00 but the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that the trial court was wrong because the trial court’s analysis of the case did not indicate that it considered the evidence in the light most favorable to the person who had won the jury verdict.

Here the jury had been instructed that they could consider “any shame, humiliation, embarrassment or indignity” that the plaintiff suffered as a result of the defendant’s assault and battery. (This instruction was agreed to by the parties.) The instruction’s broad language also permitted the jury to consider “the insulting character of the injury, the reason for the injury, and any other circumstances which made the injury more serious.

The Supreme Court said that in reducing the jury’s verdict the trial court did not address the humiliation the plaintiff had suffered, the insulting character of the injury or “other circumstances which make the injury more serious.

In regard to the punitive damages the Supreme Court said that judicial review of the amount of punitive damages requires:

1. Consideration of reasonableness between the damages sustained and the amount of the Award.

2. Measurement of punishment required.

3. Whether the Award will amount to a double recovery.

4. The proportionality between the compensatory and punitive damages and

5. The ability of the defendant to pay.

The Supreme Court held that the jury had reached the correct verdict and that its verdict should not be disturbed. The court also found that upon the evidence that the defendant owned in General Electric stock worth approximately $343,000.00 he certainly had the ability to pay.

The jury’s verdict was reinstated.