CACI No. 117. Wealth of Parties

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2023 edition)

Download PDF
117.Wealth of Parties
In reaching a verdict, you may not consider the wealth or poverty of any
party. The parties’ wealth or poverty is not relevant to any of the issues
that you must decide.
New November 2017
Directions for Use
This instruction may be given unless liability and punitive damages are to be
decided in a nonbifurcated trial. The defendant’s wealth is relevant to punitive
damages. (Adams v. Murakami (1991) 54 Cal.3d 105, 108 [284 Cal.Rptr. 318, 813
P.2d 1348].) Otherwise, the wealth or lack of it is not relevant. (Hoffman v. Brandt
(1966) 65 Cal.2d 549, 552-553 [55 Cal.Rptr. 417, 421 P.2d 425].) If this instruction
is given in a nonbifurcated trial, it should be modified to clarify that the prohibition
on considering wealth applies only to liability and compensatory damages, and not
to punitive damages. For discussion of the role of a defendant’s financial condition
with regard to punitive damages, see the punitive damages instructions in the
Damages series, CACI Nos. 3940-3949.
Sources and Authority
“Justice is to be accorded to rich and poor alike, and a deliberate attempt by
counsel to appeal to social or economic prejudices of the jury, including the
wealth or poverty of the litigants, is misconduct where the asserted wealth or
poverty is not relevant to the issues of the case. The possibility, even if true, that
a judgment for plaintiffs would mean that defendant would have to go to the
Laguna Honda Home, had no relevance to the issues of the case, and the
argument of defense counsel was clearly a transparent attempt to appeal to the
sympathies of the jury on the basis of the claimed lack of wealth of the
defendant. As such, it was clearly misconduct.” (Hoffman, supra, 65 Cal.2d at
pp. 552-553, internal citations omitted.)
“[W]here liability and punitive damages are tried in a single proceeding,
evidence of wealth is admissible. ‘[W]hile in the ordinary action for damages
information regarding the adversary’s financial status is inadmissible, this is not
so in an action for punitive damages. In such a case evidence of defendant’s
financial condition is admissible at the trial for the purpose of determining the
amount that it is proper to award [citations]. The relevancy of such evidence lies
in the fact that punitive damages are not awarded for the purpose of rewarding
the plaintiff but to punish the defendant. Obviously, the trier of fact cannot
measure the ‘punishment’ without knowledge of defendant’s ability to respond to
a given award.’ (Las Palmas Associates v. Las Palmas Center Associates
(1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1220, 1243 [1 Cal.Rptr.2d 301], original italics.)
“In an action for damages, a showing of poverty of the plaintiff is highly
prejudicial; if such evidence is deliberately introduced, it may constitute
reversible error.” (Hart v. Wielt (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 224, 234 [84 Cal.Rptr.
Secondary Sources
7 Witkin, California Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Trial, §§ 215, 216
4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 54, Punitive Damages, § 54.24 (Matthew
15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages, § 177.51[14]
(Matthew Bender)
6 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 64, Damages: Tort, § 64.141 et seq.
(Matthew Bender)

© Judicial Council of California.