Punitive Damages An Issue In Wrongful Death Case For Roseville Plaintiff, Part 3 of 7

(Please note: the names and locations of all parties have been changed to protect the confidentiality of this wrongful death case and its proceedings.)

2. Holdgrafer v. Unocal

In Holdgrafer, decided by the Court of Appeal for the Second District, the defendant was Unocal, an oil company that owned a network of undergrounds oil pipes throughout California. The plaintiffs, who owned a plot of land adjacent to one of Unocal’s facilities, claimed that their property had become contaminated by oil leaks from Unocal’s facilities. A jury awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages.

In support of their punitive damages claim, the plaintiffs introduced evidence of two other oil spills that had occurred elsewhere in California. Those spills caused considerable damage to wildlife and wetlands, and there was evidence that Unocal had intentionally concealed the severity of the contamination and its own responsibility. Like the plaintiff in State Farm, the Holdgrafer plaintiffs justified their introduction of this evidence by arguing that it undermined Unocal’s claims of innocent mistake: they contended that Unocal’s conduct toward them was part of a company policy of concealing its responsibility for oil leaks and spills. At one point, for example, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury: You gonna buy this story that they’re giving you that it’s just a simple act of negligence, that all this evidence that we put on of the [other] spill[s] and the misrepresentations … is just simple negligence? I got a word for it. Baloney. 160 Cal. App. 4th at 934.

The trial court accepted the plaintiffs’ argument that the evidence of other spills bore on the reprehensibility of the spills that harmed the plaintiffs, and overruled the defendant’s objections. (See Part 4 of 7.)

For more information you are welcome to contact Sacramento personal injury lawyer, Moseley Collins.

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