Ex-Tesla Worker’s Win Cut As Jurists Rein In ‘Nuclear Verdicts’ (LAW 360)
Law360 (April 6, 2023, 10:49 PM EDT) — A former Tesla worker’s recent $3.2 million race bias verdict in a damages retrial after a judge found the initial $137 million award “excessive” reflects a broader trend of courts using their discretionary power to rein in so-called “nuclear” eight-figure jury verdicts, legal experts say.
A California federal judge’s decision to scrap a former Tesla worker’s $137 million verdict in a race discrimination case against the electric automaker is part of a broader push by courts to reduce multimillion-dollar jury verdicts, attorneys say. (iStock.com/alfexe)
Attorney Ann Olivarius of McAllister Olivarius noted that a San Francisco jury’s initial $137 million verdict in 2021 in favor of 64-year-old former Tesla freight elevator operator Owen Diaz in his case against the electric auto manufacturer was the “highest-ever” jury award paid to an individual plaintiff for allegations of racial discrimination and race harassment in the workplace.
But after trial, U.S. District Judge William Orrick found verdict of $6.9 million in compensatory damages and $130 million in punitive damages to be excessive and “unconstitutionally large,” and he told Diaz he could either take a $15 million remittitur or allow new jurors to decide how much money he should receive. Diaz opted for the retrial on damages.
On Monday, after a five-day trial and roughly a half-day of deliberations, a new San Francisco jury of five men and three women awarded Diaz $175,000 in noneconomic damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
Judge Orrick scrapped the $137 million verdict amid a broader push by courts to reduce multimillion-dollar jury verdicts, which are becoming more commonplace, Olivarius said, adding that Monday’s verdict reflects just 2% of the initial verdict’s value.