Horvitz & Levy obtained a $3.75 million reduction in a punitive damages award against an apartment owner and manager on the grounds that the award violated defendants’ due process rights.
Plaintiff, who is dependent on an electric wheelchair, is a tenant at an apartment building in Los Angeles. Plaintiff brought reasonable accommodation claims against the owner and manager of the building after they allegedly failed to timely repair the building’s three elevators. A jury found that defendants unreasonably delayed repairing the elevators, and that this delay was malicious or oppressive. The jury awarded plaintiff $750,000 in compensatory damages for his claimed emotional distress and $4.5 million in punitive damages. Defendants appealed.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Horvitz & Levy’s argument that the punitive damages award was excessive on federal due process grounds because the award bore no reasonable relation to (1) the low reprehensibility of defendants’ conduct; (2) plaintiff’s harm, which consisted solely of discrete episodes of generalized emotional distress and which was completely compensated by the substantial compensatory damages award; and (3) possible civil penalties against defendants, which were substantially lower than the $4.5 million punitive damages award. The court therefore modified the judgment to reduce the punitive damages award by $3.75 million, to $750,000.