When plaintiffs request damages for noneconomic loss such as pain and suffering, courts are split on whether a defendant can require a plaintiff to disclose during discovery how much the plaintiff intends to ask the jury to award in noneconomic damages. A recent decision from a federal district court in Minnesota, however, required the plaintiff to do just that.
In Lewis v. City of Burnsville, 2020 WL 3496990 (D. Minn. June 29, 2020), the defendants asked the plaintiff during discovery to itemize the damages that she was seeking and “produce documentary support for her damages claim.” The plaintiff declined to provide this information, arguing that it was impossible to calculate her noneconomic loss. The magistrate judge, however, ruled that the plaintiff had to disclose how much she was seeking in noneconomic damages “along with the basis for that figure,” if the plaintiff intended to ask the jury for a specific dollar amount (or range) of noneconomic damages at trial.
Consider this: What if plaintiffs could assert a cause of action for negligence without proving, or even pleading, any actual damages? And what if the remedy for this damage-free tort claim were disgorgement of profits allegedly acquired by a breach?
This may seem foreign to American tort lawyers, but for Canadian litigants this cause of action has a name, albeit a confusing one: waiver of tort. It is often pled as an independent, gain-based cause of action, and it is a source of frustration and controversy for our friends in the True North. Indeed, class certification grounded in waiver of tort forces defendants to face the prospect of disgorgement without proof that any class member actually suffered damage, even though these commonly advanced claims have never fully been tried in Canada. Canadian scholars have suggested that this uncertainty has the potential to drive settlement negotiations unfairly in the class context.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Liu v. SEC, No. 18-1501 (June 22, 2020), limiting the SEC’s ability to obtain monetary equitable relief in securities fraud litigation, may seem an odd topic for this blog. But Liu is worth some attention because it may foreshadow an impact on calculation and distribution of monetary awards in consumer fraud class actions. The decision may influence the calculation of disgorgement or restitutionary remedies, and it may signal another hurdle for the controversial judge-made distribution mechanism, cy pres.
In Little v. Kia Motors America, Inc., docket no. A-24-18, the New Jersey Supreme Court recently set out the examination New Jersey courts must undertake before admitting aggregate proof of damages, rather than individualized proof, in a class action. Siding with defendant Kia in a vehicle defect suit, the Court ruled that admission of aggregate proof of damages at trial was inappropriate because an unknown number of class members would have received a windfall, and the formula used to estimate such damages was unreliable. This case reviews the key principles courts and litigants should consider when choosing between individualized or aggregate proof of damages in a class action.