Calif. tort reform bill voted down by committee

John O'Brien Mar. 29, 2011, 11:00am


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A bill that would have limited plaintiffs' rights to punitive damages was recently shot down by the California Assembly Judiciary Committee.

On March 15, a 7-3 vote was entered against the bill, introduced in January by Assembly Member Linda Halderman, a Republican. The bill would have created a government standards defense against plaintiffs seeking punitive damages.

Essentially, if a product was in compliance with government regulations, a plaintiff would not be entitled to punitive damages. The bill is the latest in a long line of similar ones to not be enacted in California.

The Civil Justice Association of California and several other groups - like the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Retailers Association and the California Association of Health Facilities - supported the measure.

"The broad coalition supporting the bill pointed out that the purpose of punitive damages is to make an example out of certain defendants and to punish them for outrageous conduct," CJAC's blog says.

"Is adhering in good faith to a standard the government itself deems acceptable really outrageous conduct?"

All seven who voted against the bill are Democrats, while the three in support are Republicans. Halderman had argued that the measure would help the state's business climate by attracting new businesses and creating jobs.

The original version of the bill also capped non-economic damages in civil lawsuits at $250,000 for cases involving negligence and capped punitives at three times the compensatory damages. Those provisions were taken out before the 7-3 vote.

"Thirteen other states have already enacted similar reforms and have enjoyed job growth and retention as a result," Halderman said. "The intent of this legislation is not to diminish a plaintiff's right to damages, but rather to lend some guidelines to courts and juries and make sure that victims - not predatory attorneys - are compensated for their suffering."

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