Recently, a California jury awarded a fired employee a stunning $167.7 million, made up of $125 million in punitives, $3.7 million for wage loss, $33 million for pain and suffering (emotional distress) and $6 million for loss of reputation. The verdict has been reduced to $82.3 million per statute. Post-trial motions are pending, unsurprisingly, to reduce or vacate the verdict, which obviously is the result of excessive passion and prejudice.  (Ani Chopourian v. Catholic Healthcare West d.b.a. Mercy General Hospital.)

This was the largest jury verdict for a single plaintiff in U.S. history. The claim was for both sexual harassment and wrongful termination involving a physician’s assistant in California who was terminated after two years on the job allegedly because she made numerous complaints about sexual harassment and patient safety.

So much could be said about the verdict without knowing anything about the case. The emotional distress component is noteworthy because that is added to almost every type of case filed these days, including ones involving a failed home-entertainment system, a flooded house and a wrecked antique car (all real cases I’ve seen in my practice).

Have we placed our emotions above what remains of our intellects? Or, is it something else?

Will the legislatures act further? (There already are some damage limits in some situations to keep juries in check.) Must the courts? Can juror questionnaires weed out the weak-minded? (If you’ve sat through voir dire as a member of a venire yourself, you’ve probably seen some who should be excused due to lack of intellectual coherence.)

In the case mentioned above, the ex-employee did NOT seek recovery for psychological care or counseling. Yet, she sought and was awarded emotional distress damages. Doesn’t the lack of treatment indicate minor irritation not disability? And, she would never had made anywhere near any of the amounts she recovered in the lawsuit if she had remained employed.

So, what was the jury thinking, if anything? Was it just blind hatred for the employer?

I’m emotionally distressed by this verdict. Whom do I sue?

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