What are punitive damages? Pt. 2

On Behalf of | Mar 27, 2015 | Wrongful Termination

He also asked the jury for punitive damages. Before the jury deliberated on that question, the Diocese settled the case for $4 million. The forewoman of the jury commented to the press that they should have let the jury decide the issue, as the jury would not have been so generous.

She was quoted as saying, “I told the plaintiffs they got off lucky, because I don’t think we would have awarded as much.” Her first misunderstanding is exampled by the “lucky” comment. 

No one who has been wrongfully terminated ever feels “lucky.” They may be relieved once the case is over and they have been vindicated, even if that vindication brings them a substantial settlement.

The emotional pain and distress caused to a person who works as a coach and is alleged to be responsible for sexual harassment is immense. Had he failed to sue the diocese, it likely would have ended forever his chances of ever working as a coach again, as what school district would risk hiring a coach with that stain on his or her record.

It also would have followed him in any other employment, labeling him as “the guy responsible for that sexual hazing.” Again, for most teachers or coaches, such accusations, when unfounded and inaccurate could cause a lifetime of psychological problems.

In this case, the diocese determined it was too risky to allow the jury to decide the issue and settled the case. The forewoman’s comment also displays a lack of understanding as to the purpose of punitive damages. They technically are not “worth” anything to a victim; the question is how much are they worth to the wrongdoer.

Punitive damages are designed to hurt a wrongdoer sufficiently that they will not engage in such conduct. While the provide compensation to the victim, their purpose is punishment. Stating an award or settlement is “lucky” in a wrongful termination cases like this is akin to claiming a crime victim is “lucky” their attacker received a sentence of 20 years.

The diocese had assets of $110 million, which likely played a role in determining the $4 million figure. Punitive damages are used to prevent entities from writing off the cost of their wrongdoing as merely another cost of doing business.

Sacbee.com, “Forewoman: Whistleblowing coach ‘lucky’ to get $4 million from diocese in sex-hazing case,” ANDY FURILLO, March 12, 2015

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