Procedural Posture

Plaintiff surgeon and defendant surgeon appealed from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which ordered, in an action for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud, a total of $ 500,000 in actual damages, plus prejudgment interest at the rate of 10 percent, compounded, and postjudgment interest at 10 percent. In a separate phase of the trial, the jury awarded $ 1,250,000 in punitive damages. Plaintiff sought counsel from a small business attorney.

Overview

After the trial court rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff surgeon for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and fraud, defendant surgeon challenged the verdict, and plaintiff challenged the trial court’s reduction of the jury’s contract damages award. In affirming the verdict, the court concluded that there was ample evidence to support the jury’s finding that a fiduciary relationship existed between the parties. Specifically, defendant had become an agent of plaintiff by handling plaintiff’s accounts. In modifying the judgment to reflect the jury’s award of $ 140,000 for breach of contract damages, the court held that the trial court erred in reducing the award because the contract damages were supported by evidence separate from that supporting the award relating to breach of fiduciary duty. In vacating the jury’s award of $ 1,250,000 for punitive damages, the court held that such amount was excessive as it reflected 28 percent of defendant’s net worth and should not have exceeded 10 percent of his net worth. The court also found that the trial court improperly awarded prejudgment interest at the rate of 10 percent because the applicable legal rate was 7 percent.

Outcome

The court affirmed the trial court’s verdict in favor of plaintiff surgeon because there was ample evidence to support the jury’s findings that a fiduciary relationship existed between the parties. The court modified the trial court’s order reducing the jury’s award for breach of contract damages because those damages were supported by separate evidence. The court vacated the award of punitive damages because it was excessive.

Procedural Posture

Defendant employer appealed a judgment from the Superior Court of San Diego County, entered upon a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff employee in his action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy. Plaintiff appealed the denial of his request for prejudgment interest pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code § 3291.

Overview

Plaintiff employee brought an action against defendant employer, alleging that defendant discharged him in violation of public policy by retaliating against him for disclosing to management defendant’s violation of the false statements act (the Act), 18 U.S.C.S. § 1001. A jury rendered a verdict in favor of plaintiff for lost wages and benefits, emotional distress, and punitive damages. Defendant appealed, asserting that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict and alleging instructional error. Plaintiff cross-appealed, challenging the trial court’s denial of his request for prejudgment interest pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code § 3291. The court affirmed the judgment. The court held that there was sufficient evidence that defendant’s breaches of government contracts violated the act and that the violations did not consist merely of “routine problems” inherent in the administration of government defense contracts. The trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury that plaintiff could recover only if he “protested” about illegal policies. Finally, the trial court did not err in denying plaintiff prejudgment interest.

Outcome

The court affirmed a judgment in favor of plaintiff employee in his action for wrongful termination in violation of public policy where the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict and where the trial court did not err in refusing to instruct the jury that plaintiff could recover only if he “protested” about illegal policies. The court also affirmed the denial of plaintiff’s request for prejudgment interest.