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Kemezy v. Peters

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Brief Fact Summary.

Kemezy (Plaintiff) sued Peters (Defendant) for punitive damages for beating Plaintiff with a nightstick while working security at a bowling alley.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Plaintiffs do not have the burden of introducing evidence of the defendant’s net worth in order to seek punitive damages.

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

It would be worse if the cost of the insurance fell, reducing the financial disincentive to engage in wrongful behavior, because the insurance company knew that its insured could plead poverty to the jury.

View Full Point of Law
Facts.

Kemezy (Plaintiff) sued Peters (Defendant) under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983. Defendant, a policeman during the day, beat Plaintiff with a nightstick while working security at a bowling alley. The jury awarded $10,000 in compensatory damages and $20,000 in punitive damages.

Issue.

Was the burden on Plaintiff to introduce evidence of Defendant’s net worth in order to request punitive damages?

Held.

No, the Court held the burden was not on Plaintiff to introduce such evidence. The Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Discussion.

In finding the majority rule to be correct, the Court reviewed various reasons that punitive damages may be awarded. None of these reasons depends upon the defendant’s net worth. While juries often do adjust awards based on a defendant’s net worth, the Court contended that plaintiffs should not be required to provide them with this information, especially because it may disadvantage them in some cases.


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