The recent case of Rubio v. CIA Wheel Group (D2d8 Apr. 15, 2021) no. B300021, reminds that awards of punitive damages are reviewed independently by the appellate courts. Rubio also provides a nice illustration how dicta – observations made by prior courts that are not part of their holdings – may be used effectively.
Rubio involved an employee wrongfully terminated because she had cancer. During the trial, employer lied about having knowledge of employee's cancer. (The judge asked: why else did he think employee needed medical leave "for three months? A cold?" Yikes.)
Held: A trial court may properly consider the noneconomic damages in the baseline for a punitive damages award. Combining economic and noneconomic damages here to make the range of harm $115,000 to $165,000, the $500,000 award of punitive damages reflected a multipler of 3.5, which the court held to be permissible.