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Punitive Damages Verdict Upheld

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Brent Adams
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Judge refuses to overturn $3.1 million verdict against the Target Corporation.

The verdict was returned by a federal jury in Greenville South Carolina which found that Target defamed Rita Cantrell when an employee distributed an e-mail to other businesses and law enforcement agencies characterizing her as a potential shoplifter and as someone who had tried to pass a counterfeit $100 bill.

Cantwell was arrested by the US Secret Service at her workplace and a Belk store. Thereafter, it was determined that the the $100 bill she gave to target was authentic.

The jury awarded her $100,000 in actual damages and $3 million in punitive damages.

In denying the effort to target to have the punitive damages verdict set aside, the federal court ruled that the amount awarded was "necessary" to deter Target from similar behavior.

In its order denying the request to overturn the verdict the judge wrote "Target engaged in moderately reprehensible behavior, which can only be deterred through an award of a moderately large magnitude. Because of the defendant's financial strength, a number not unlike the one returned by the jury seems necessary to accomplish that end".

This case is an example of how punitive damages are determined. Since the target is a wealthy corporation, the court reasoned that $3 million in punitive damages was only a "moderately large" verdict and that a verdict in this amount was "necessary". Had this $3 million punitive damages verdict been returned against an individual of modest means, it is almost certain that the punitive damages award would have been set aside.

The rule of law is that the more assets a defendant has, the more money it takes in a punitive damages award to sufficiently punish

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