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Kemezy v. Peters

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Brief Fact Summary. Kemezy (Plaintiff) sued Peters (Defendant), an Indiana policeman, claiming that Defendant had wantonly beat Plaintiff with his nightstick. The jury awarded Plaintiff punitive damages.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. In punitive damage awards, Plaintiff is not required to present evidence of Defendant’s wealth.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

When the defendant is to be fully indemnified, such evidence, far from being required, is inadmissible.

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Facts. Plaintiff sued Defendant, an Indiana policeman, under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 claiming that Defendant had wantonly beat Plaintiff with his nightstick in an altercation at a bowling alley. Defendant was moonlighting as a security guard at the time. The jury awarded Plaintiff $10,000.00 in compensatory damages and $20,000.00 in punitive damages. Defendant appealed.

Issue. Is it Plaintiff’s burden to introduce evidence concerning the defendant’s net worth?

Held. No. Judgment affirmed
* The standard judicial formulation of the purpose of punitive damages is that it is to punish the defendant for reprehensible conduct and to deter him and others form engaging in similar conduct.
* Plaintiff is not required to present evidence of Defendant’s wealth. Naturally, a jury will award more punitive damages if Defendant is wealthy. A $1,000.00 dollar punitive damage award does not effectively punish a multi-million dollar corporation. But $1,000.00 could effectively punish an individual on a modest income. It could be to be Plaintiff’s benefit to introduce evidence of Defendant’s wealth in hopes of obtaining a large award, however, the court holds that Plaintiff is not forced to present such evidence.

Discussion. The court lists the purposes for awarding punitive damages in the first part of the opinion reprinted in the casebook. In the purposes listed, the court notes that no purpose addresses Defendant’s wealth. The court notes the irony in Defendant’s request that Plaintiff introduce evidence of Defendant’s wealth. Plaintiffs generally want to introduce evidence of Defendants’ wealth in order to show the jury what deep pockets Defendant has.

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