CACI No. 3940. Punitive Damages - Individual Defendant - Trial Not Bifurcated

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2024 edition)

Download PDF
3940.Punitive Damages - Individual Defendant - Trial Not
If you decide that [name of defendant]’s conduct caused [name of plaintiff]
harm, you must decide whether that conduct justifies an award of
punitive damages. The purposes of punitive damages are to punish a
wrongdoer for the conduct that harmed the plaintiff and to discourage
similar conduct in the future.
You may award punitive damages only if [name of plaintiff] proves by
clear and convincing evidence that [name of defendant] engaged in that
conduct with malice, oppression, or fraud.
“Malice” means that [name of defendant] acted with intent to cause
injury or that [name of defendant]’s conduct was despicable and was done
with a willful and knowing disregard of the rights or safety of another. A
person acts with knowing disregard when the person is aware of the
probable dangerous consequences of the person’s conduct and
deliberately fails to avoid those consequences.
“Oppression” means that [name of defendant]’s conduct was despicable
and subjected [name of plaintiff] to cruel and unjust hardship in knowing
disregard of [his/her/nonbinary pronoun] rights.
“Despicable conduct” is conduct that is so vile, base, or contemptible
that it would be looked down on and despised by reasonable people.
“Fraud” means that [name of defendant] intentionally misrepresented or
concealed a material fact and did so intending to harm [name of
There is no fixed formula for determining the amount of punitive
damages, and you are not required to award any punitive damages. If
you decide to award punitive damages, you should consider all of the
following factors in determining the amount:
(a) How reprehensible was [name of defendant]’s conduct? In deciding
how reprehensible [name of defendant]’s conduct was, you may
consider, among other factors:
1. Whether the conduct caused physical harm;
2. Whether [name of defendant] disregarded the health or safety
of others;
3. Whether [name of plaintiff] was financially weak or vulnerable
and [name of defendant] knew [name of plaintiff] was financially
weak or vulnerable and took advantage of [him/her/nonbinary
4. Whether [name of defendant]’s conduct involved a pattern or
practice; and
5. Whether [name of defendant] acted with trickery or deceit.
(b) Is there a reasonable relationship between the amount of punitive
damages and [name of plaintiff]’s harm [or between the amount of
punitive damages and potential harm to [name of plaintiff] that
[name of defendant] knew was likely to occur because of [his/her/
nonbinary pronoun/its] conduct]?
(c) In view of [name of defendant]’s financial condition, what amount
is necessary to punish [him/her/nonbinary pronoun/it] and
discourage future wrongful conduct? You may not increase the
punitive award above an amount that is otherwise appropriate
merely because [name of defendant] has substantial financial
resources. [Any award you impose may not exceed [name of
defendant]’s ability to pay.]
[Punitive damages may not be used to punish [name of defendant] for the
impact of [his/her/nonbinary pronoun/its] alleged misconduct on persons
other than [name of plaintiff].]
New September 2003; Revised April 2004, October 2004, December 2005, June
2006, April 2007, August 2007, October 2008, May 2020
Directions for Use
This instruction is intended to apply to individual persons only. When the plaintiff is
seeking punitive damages against corporate defendants, use CACI No. 3943,
Punitive Damages Against Employer or Principal for Conduct of a Specific Agent or
Employee - Trial Not Bifurcated, or CACI No. 3945, Punitive Damages - Entity
Defendant - Trial Not Bifurcated. When plaintiff is seeking punitive damages against
both an individual person and a corporate defendant, use CACI No. 3947, Punitive
Damages - Individual and Entity Defendants - Trial Not Bifurcated.
For an instruction explaining “clear and convincing evidence,” see CACI No. 201,
Highly Probable - Clear and Convincing Proof.
Read the bracketed language at the end of the first sentence of factor (b) only if
there is evidence that the conduct of defendant that allegedly gives rise to liability
and punitive damages either caused or foreseeably threatened to cause harm to
plaintiff that would not be included in an award of compensatory damages. (Simon
v. San Paolo U.S. Holding Co., Inc. (2005) 35 Cal.4th 1159 [29 Cal.Rptr.3d 379,
113 P.3d 63].) The bracketed phrase concerning “potential harm” might be
appropriate, for example, if damages actually caused by the defendant’s acts are not
recoverable because they are barred by statute (id. at p. 1176, citing Neal v. Farmers
Ins. Exchange (1978) 21 Cal.3d 910, 929 [148 Cal.Rptr. 389, 582 P.2d 980] [in a
bad faith insurance case, plaintiff died before judgment, precluding her estate’s
recovery of emotional distress damages]), or if the harm caused by defendant’s acts
could have been great, but by chance only slight harm was inflicted. (Simon, supra,
35 Cal.4th at p. 1177, citing TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources Corp.
(1993) 509 U.S. 443, 459 [113 S.Ct. 2711, 125 L.Ed.2d 366] [considering the
hypothetical of a person wildly firing a gun into a crowd but by chance only
damaging a pair of glasses].) The bracketed phrase should not be given where an
award of compensatory damages is the “true measure” of the harm or potential harm
caused by defendant’s wrongful acts. (Simon, supra, 35 Cal.4th at pp. 1178-1179
[rejecting consideration for purposes of assessing punitive damages of the plaintiff’s
loss of the benefit of the bargain if the jury had found that there was no binding
Read the optional final sentence of factor (c) only if the defendant has presented
relevant evidence regarding that issue.
Read the optional final sentence if there is a possibility that in arriving at an amount
of punitive damages, the jury might consider harm that the defendant’s conduct may
have caused to nonparties. (See Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007) 549 U.S. 346,
353-354 [127 S.Ct. 1057, 166 L.Ed.2d 940].) Harm to others may be relevant to
determining reprehensibility based on factors (a)(2) (disregard of health or safety of
others) and (a)(4) (pattern or practice). (See State Farm Mutual Automobile
Insurance Co. v. Campbell (2003) 538 U.S. 408, 419 [123 S.Ct. 1513, 155 L.Ed.2d
“A jury must be instructed . . . that it may not use evidence of out-of-state conduct
to punish a defendant for action that was lawful in the jurisdiction where it
occurred.” (State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., supra, 538 U.S. at p.
422.) An instruction on this point should be included within this instruction if
appropriate to the facts.
In an appropriate case, the jury may be instructed that a false promise or a
suggestion of a fact known to be false may constitute a misrepresentation as the
word “misrepresentation” is used in the instruction’s definition of “fraud.”
Courts have stated that “[p]unitive damages previously imposed for the same
conduct are relevant in determining the amount of punitive damages required to
sufficiently punish and deter. The likelihood of future punitive damage awards may
also be considered, although it is entitled to considerably less weight.” (Stevens v.
Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th 1645, 1661 [57 Cal.Rptr.2d
525], internal citations omitted.) The court in Stevens suggested that the following
instruction be given if evidence of other punitive damage awards is introduced into
If you determine that a defendant has already been assessed with punitive
damages based on the same conduct for which punitive damages are requested
in this case, you may consider whether punitive damages awarded in other cases
have sufficiently punished and made an example of the defendant. You must not
use the amount of punitive damages awarded in other cases to determine the
amount of the punitive damage award in this case, except to the extent you
determine that a lesser award, or no award at all, is justified in light of the
penalties already imposed. (Stevens, supra, 49 Cal.App.4th at p. 1663, fn. 7.)
Sources and Authority
When Punitive Damages Permitted. Civil Code section 3294.
“An award of punitive damages is not supported by a verdict based on breach of
contract, even where the defendant’s conduct in breaching the contract was
wilful, fraudulent, or malicious. Even in those cases in which a separate tort
action is alleged, if there is ‘but one verdict based upon contract’ a punitive
damage award is improper.” (Myers Building Industries, Ltd. v. Interface
Technology, Inc. (1993) 13 Cal.App.4th 949, 960 [17 Cal.Rptr.2d 242], internal
citations omitted.)
“The purpose of punitive damages is to punish wrongdoers and thereby deter the
commission of wrongful acts.” (Neal, supra, 21 Cal.3d at p. 928, fn. 13.)
“Punitive damages are to be assessed in an amount which, depending upon the
defendant’s financial worth and other factors, will deter him and others from
committing similar misdeeds. Because compensatory damages are designed to
make the plaintiff ‘whole,’ punitive damages are a ‘windfall’ form of recovery.”
(College Hospital, Inc. v. Superior Court (1994) 8 Cal.4th 704, 712 [34
Cal.Rptr.2d 898, 882 P.2d 894], internal citations omitted.)
“It follows that the wealthier the wrongdoing defendant, the larger the award of
exemplary damages need be in order to accomplish the statutory objective.”
(Bertero v. National General Corp. (1974) 13 Cal.3d 43, 65 [118 Cal.Rptr. 184,
529 P.2d 608].)
‘A plaintiff, upon establishing his case, is always entitled of right to
compensatory damages. But even after establishing a case where punitive
damages are permissible, he is never entitled to them. The granting or
withholding of the award of punitive damages is wholly within the control of the
jury, and may not legally be influenced by any direction of the court that in any
case a plaintiff is entitled to them. Upon the clearest proof of malice in fact, it is
still the exclusive province of the jury to say whether or not punitive damages
shall be awarded. A plaintiff is entitled to such damages only after the jury, in
the exercise of its untrammeled discretion, has made the award.’ (Brewer v.
Second Baptist Church of Los Angeles (1948) 32 Cal.2d 791, 801 [197 P.2d
713], internal citation omitted.)
“In light of our holding that evidence of a defendant’s financial condition is
essential to support an award of punitive damages, Evidence Code section 500
mandates that the plaintiff bear the burden of proof on the issue. A plaintiff
seeking punitive damages is not seeking a mere declaration by the jury that he is
entitled to punitive damages in the abstract. The plaintiff is seeking an award of
real money in a specific amount to be set by the jury. Because the award,
whatever its amount, cannot be sustained absent evidence of the defendant’s
financial condition, such evidence is ‘essential to the claim for relief.’ (Adams
v. Murakami (1991) 54 Cal.3d 105, 119 [284 Cal.Rptr. 318, 813 P.2d 1348],
internal citation omitted.)
“A defendant is in the best position to know his or her financial condition, and
cannot avoid a punitive damage award by failing to cooperate with discovery
orders. [¶] A number of cases have held that noncompliance with a court order
to disclose financial condition precludes a defendant from challenging the
sufficiency of the evidence of a punitive damages award on appeal.” (Fernandes
v. Singh (2017) 16 Cal.App.5th 932, 942 [224 Cal.Rptr.3d 751].)
“[T]he purpose of punitive damages is not served by financially destroying a
defendant. The purpose is to deter, not to destroy.” (Adams, supra, 54 Cal.3d at
p. 112.)
“[A] punitive damages award is excessive if it is disproportionate to the
defendant’s ability to pay.” (Adams, supra, 54 Cal.3d at p. 112, internal citations
“It has been recognized that punitive damages awards generally are not
permitted to exceed 10 percent of the defendant’s net worth.” (Weeks v. Baker &
McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1166 [74 Cal.Rptr.2d 510].)
“While ‘there is no rigid formula and other factors may be dispositive especially
when net worth is manipulated and fails to reflect actual wealth,’ net worth is
often described as ‘the critical determinant of financial condition.’ [¶] A plaintiff
seeking punitive damages must provide a balanced overview of the defendant’s
financial condition; a selective presentation of financial condition evidence will
not survive scrutiny.” (Farmers & Merchants Trust Co. v. Vanetik (2019) 33
Cal.App.5th 638, 648 [245 Cal.Rptr.3d 608], internal citation omitted.)
“[N]et worth is not the only measure of a defendant’s wealth for punitive
damages purposes that is recognized by the California courts. ‘Indeed, it is likely
that blind adherence to any one standard [of determining wealth] could
sometimes result in awards which neither deter nor punish or which deter or
punish too much.’ (Bankhead v. ArvinMeritor, Inc. (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 68,
79 [139 Cal.Rptr.3d 849].)
“[T]he ‘net’ concept of the net worth metric remains critical. ‘In most cases,
evidence of earnings or profit alone are not sufficient “without examining the
liabilities side of the balance sheet.” [Citations.]’ (Soto v. BorgWarner Morse
TEC Inc. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 165, 194 [191 Cal.Rptr.3d 263], internal
citations omitted.)
“[W]e are afforded guidance by certain established principles, all of which are
grounded in the purpose and function of punitive damages. One factor is the
particular nature of the defendant’s acts in light of the whole record; clearly,
different acts may be of varying degrees of reprehensibility, and the more
reprehensible the act, the greater the appropriate punishment, assuming all other
factors are equal. Another relevant yardstick is the amount of compensatory
damages awarded; in general, even an act of considerable reprehensibility will
not be seen to justify a proportionally high amount of punitive damages if the
actual harm suffered thereby is small. Also to be considered is the wealth of the
particular defendant; obviously, the function of deterrence will not be served if
the wealth of the defendant allows him to absorb the award with little or no
discomfort. By the same token, of course, the function of punitive damages is
not served by an award which, in light of the defendant’s wealth and the gravity
of the particular act, exceeds the level necessary to properly punish and deter.”
(Neal, supra, 21 Cal.3d at p. 928, internal citations and footnote omitted.)
“[T]he Constitution’s Due Process Clause forbids a State to use a punitive
damages award to punish a defendant for injury that it inflicts upon nonparties or
those whom they directly represent, i.e., injury that it inflicts upon those who
are, essentially, strangers to the litigation.” (Philip Morris USA, supra, 549 U.S.
at p. 353.)
“Evidence of actual harm to nonparties can help to show that the conduct that
harmed the plaintiff also posed a substantial risk of harm to the general public,
and so was particularly reprehensible - although counsel may argue in a
particular case that conduct resulting in no harm to others nonetheless posed a
grave risk to the public, or the converse. Yet for the reasons given above, a jury
may not go further than this and use a punitive damages verdict to punish a
defendant directly on account of harms it is alleged to have visited on
nonparties.” (Philip Morris USA, supra, 549 U.S. at p. 355.)
‘Due process does not permit courts, in the calculation of punitive damages, to
adjudicate the merits of other parties’ hypothetical claims against a defendant
under the guise of the reprehensibility analysis . . . . Punishment on these bases
creates the possibility of multiple punitive damages awards for the same
conduct . . . .’ This does not mean, however, that the defendant’s similar
wrongful conduct toward others should not be considered in determining the
amount of punitive damages.” (Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. (2011) 198
Cal.App.4th 543, 560 [131 Cal.Rptr.3d 382].)
“Though due process does not permit courts or juries, in the calculation of
punitive damages, to adjudicate the merits of other parties’ hypothetical claims
against a defendant under the guise of the reprehensibility analysis, this does not
mean that the defendant’s similar wrongful conduct toward others should not be
considered in determining the amount of punitive damages. . . . ‘[T]o consider
the defendant’s entire course of conduct in setting or reviewing a punitive
damages award, even in an individual plaintiff’s lawsuit, is not to punish the
defendant for its conduct toward others. An enhanced punishment for recidivism
does not directly punish the earlier offense; it is, rather, “a stiffened penalty
for the last crime, which is considered to be an aggravated offense because a
repetitive one.” . . . By placing the defendant’s conduct on one occasion into
the context of a business practice or policy, an individual plaintiff can
demonstrate that the conduct toward him or her was more blameworthy and
warrants a stronger penalty to deter continued or repeated conduct of the same
nature.’ (Izell v. Union Carbide Corp. (2014) 231 Cal.App.4th 962, 986, fn. 10
[180 Cal.Rptr.3d 382], internal citations omitted.)
“[A] specific instruction encompassing both the permitted and prohibited uses of
evidence of harm caused to others would be appropriate in the new trial if
requested by the parties. We believe that an instruction on these issues should
clearly distinguish between the permitted and prohibited uses of such evidence
and thus make clear to the jury the purposes for which it can and cannot
consider that evidence. A jury may consider evidence of harm caused to others
for the purpose of determining the degree of reprehensibility of a defendant’s
conduct toward the plaintiff in deciding the amount of punitive damages, but it
may not consider that evidence for the purpose of punishing the defendant
directly for harm caused to others. In our view, Judicial Council of California
Civil Jury Instructions (Aug. 2007 rev.) CACI Nos. 3940, 3942, 3943, 3945,
3947, and 3949 could convey this distinction better by stating more explicitly
that evidence of harm caused to others may be considered for the one purpose
but not for the other, and by providing that explanation together with the
reprehensibility factors rather than in connection with the reasonable relationship
issue.” (Bullock v. Philip Morris USA, Inc. (2008) 159 Cal.App.4th 655, 695, fn.
21 [71 Cal.Rptr.3d 775], internal citation omitted.)
‘[T]he most important indicium of the reasonableness of a punitive damages
award is the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct.’ We have
instructed courts to determine the reprehensibility of a defendant by considering
whether: the harm caused was physical as opposed to economic; the tortious
conduct evinced an indifference to or a reckless disregard of the health or safety
of others; the target of the conduct had financial vulnerability; the conduct
involved repeated actions or was an isolated incident; and the harm was the
result of intentional malice, trickery, or deceit, or mere accident. The existence
of any one of these factors weighing in favor of a plaintiff may not be sufficient
to sustain a punitive damages award; and the absence of all of them renders any
award suspect.” (State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., supra, 538 U.S.
at p. 419, internal citation omitted.)
“[I]n a case involving physical harm, the physical or physiological vulnerability
of the target of the defendant’s conduct is an appropriate factor to consider in
determining the degree of reprehensibility, particularly if the defendant
deliberately exploited that vulnerability.” (Bullock, supra, 198 Cal.App.4th at p.
562, internal citation omitted.)
“[W]e have been reluctant to identify concrete constitutional limits on the ratio
between harm, or potential harm, to the plaintiff and the punitive damages
award. We decline again to impose a bright-line ratio which a punitive damages
award cannot exceed. Our jurisprudence and the principles it has now established
demonstrate, however, that, in practice, few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio
between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy
due process. . . . [A]n award of more than four times the amount of
compensatory damages might be close to the line of constitutional
impropriety. . . . While these ratios are not binding, they are instructive. They
demonstrate what should be obvious: Single-digit multipliers are more likely to
comport with due process, while still achieving the State’s goals of deterrence
and retribution, than awards with ratios in range of 500 to 1 . . . .” (State Farm
Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., supra, 538 U.S. at pp. 424-425, internal
citation omitted.)
“Nonetheless, because there are no rigid benchmarks that a punitive damages
award may not surpass, ratios greater than those we have previously upheld may
comport with due process where ‘a particularly egregious act has resulted in
only a small amount of economic damages.’ The converse is also true, however.
When compensatory damages are substantial, then a lesser ratio, perhaps only
equal to compensatory damages, can reach the outermost limit of the due process
guarantee. The precise award in any case, of course, must be based upon the
facts and circumstances of the defendant’s conduct and the harm to the plaintiff.”
(State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., supra, 538 U.S. at p. 425,
internal citation omitted.)
“In determining whether a punitive damages award is unconstitutionally
excessive, Brandt fees may be included in the calculation of the ratio of punitive
to compensatory damages, regardless of whether the fees are awarded by the
trier of fact as part of its verdict or are determined by the trial court after the
verdict has been rendered.” (Nickerson v. Stonebridge Life Ins. Co. (2016) 63
Cal.4th 363, 368 [203 Cal.Rptr.3d 23, 371 P.3d 242].)
“The decision to award punitive damages is exclusively the function of the trier
of fact. So too is the amount of any punitive damage award. The relevant
considerations are the nature of the defendant’s conduct, the defendant’s wealth,
and the plaintiff’s actual damages.” (Gagnon v. Continental Casualty Co. (1989)
211 Cal.App.3d 1598, 1602 [260 Cal.Rptr. 305], internal citations omitted.)
“The wealth of a defendant cannot justify an otherwise unconstitutional punitive
damages award.” (State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., supra, 538
U.S. at p. 427, internal citation omitted.)
“[I]n some cases, the defendant’s financial condition may combine with high
reprehensibility and a low compensatory award to justify an extraordinary ratio
between compensatory and punitive damages. [Citation.]” (Nickerson v.
Stonebridge Life Ins. Co. (Nickerson II) (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 1, 26 [209
Cal.Rptr.3d 690].)
“In light of our discussion, we conclude that even where, as here, punitive but
not compensatory damages are available to the plaintiff, the defendant is entitled
to an instruction that punitive damages must bear a reasonable relation to the
injury, harm, or damage actually suffered by the plaintiff and proved at trial.
Consequently, the trial court erred in failing to so instruct the jury.” (Gagnon,
supra, 211 Cal.App.3d at p. 1605.)
“Under the statute, ‘malice does not require actual intent to harm. [Citation.]
Conscious disregard for the safety of another may be sufficient where the
defendant is aware of the probable dangerous consequences of his or her conduct
and he or she willfully fails to avoid such consequences. [Citation.] Malice may
be proved either expressly through direct evidence or by implication through
indirect evidence from which the jury draws inferences. [Citation.]’ (Pfeifer v.
John Crane, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1270, 1299 [164 Cal.Rptr.3d 112].)
“Used in its ordinary sense, the adjective ‘despicable’ is a powerful term that
refers to circumstances that are ‘base,’ ‘vile,’ or ‘contemptible.’ As amended to
include this word, the statute plainly indicates that absent an intent to injure the
plaintiff, ‘malice’ requires more than a ‘willful and conscious’ disregard of the
plaintiffs’ interests. The additional component of ‘despicable conduct’ must be
found.” (College Hospital, Inc., supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 725, internal citations
“We conclude that the rule . . . that an award of exemplary damages must be
accompanied by an award of compensatory damages [or its equivalent] is still
sound. That rule cannot be deemed satisfied where the jury has made an express
determination not to award compensatory damages.” (Cheung v. Daley (1995) 35
Cal.App.4th 1673, 1677 [42 Cal.Rptr.2d 164], footnote omitted.)
“With the focus on the plaintiff’s injury rather than the amount of compensatory
damages, the [‘reasonable relation’] rule can be applied even in cases where only
equitable relief is obtained or where nominal damages are awarded or, as here,
where compensatory damages are unavailable.” (Gagnon, supra, 211 Cal.App.3d
at p. 1605.)
“The high court in TXO [TXO Production Corp., supra] and BMW [BMW of
North America, Inc. v. Gore (1996) 517 U.S. 559 [116 S.Ct. 1589, 134 L.Ed.2d
809]] has refined the disparity analysis to take into account the potential loss to
plaintiffs, as where a scheme worthy of punitive damages does not fully succeed.
In such cases, the proper ratio would be the ratio of punitive damages to the
potential harm to plaintiff.” (Sierra Club Found. v. Graham (1999) 72
Cal.App.4th 1135, 1162, fn. 15 [85 Cal.Rptr.2d 726], original italics.)
Secondary Sources
6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (11th ed. 2017) Torts, §§ 1727, 1729, 1731,
1743-1748, 1780-1796
Haning et al., California Practice Guide: Personal Injury, Ch. 3-E, Punitive
Damages, ¶¶ 3:255-3:281.15 (The Rutter Group)
California Tort Damages (Cont.Ed.Bar 2d ed.) Punitive Damages, §§ 14.1-14.12,
4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 54, Punitive Damages, §§ 54.01-54.06,
54.20-54.25 (Matthew Bender)
15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages, § 177.51
(Matthew Bender)
6 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 64, Damages: Tort, §§ 64.141 et seq.,
64.174 et seq. (Matthew Bender)

© Judicial Council of California.