Judge: Armen Tamzarian, Case: 20STCV41972, Date: 2022-07-25 Tentative Ruling

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Case Number: 20STCV41972    Hearing Date: July 25, 2022    Dept: 52

Tentative Ruling

Defendant Civil Service Employees Insurance Company’s Motion to Bifurcate Trial and Exclude Evidence Pursuant to Civil Code § 3295(d)

Defendant Civil Service Employees Insurance Company moves to bifurcate trial on the amount of punitive damages and treble damages from the remainder of the trial.  Civil Code § 3295(d) provides:

The court shall, on application of any defendant, preclude the admission of evidence of that defendant’s [wealth] until after the trier of fact returns a verdict for plaintiff awarding actual damages and finds that a defendant is guilty of malice, oppression, or fraud ... .  Evidence of profit and financial condition shall be presented to the same trier of fact that found for the plaintiff and found one or more defendants guilty of malice, oppression, or fraud.

This provision “requires a court, upon application of any defendant, to bifurcate a trial so that the trier of fact is not presented with evidence of the defendant’s wealth and profits until after the issues of liability, compensatory damages, and malice, oppression, or fraud have been resolved against the defendant.”  (Torres v. Automobile Club of So. California (1997) 15 Cal.4th 771, 777–778.) 

In addition to punitive damages under Civil Code section 3294, plaintiffs Shapour Motamedi and Shervin Motamedi seek treble damages for financial elder abuse.  “[T]reble damages are, in the vast majority of contexts, regarded as a primarily punitive form of damages.”  (X.M. v. Superior Court (2021) 68 Cal.App.5th 1014, 1023.)  The court finds it is more efficient to try the amount of enhanced or treble damages in the same phase as the amount of punitive damages. 

The motion is granted. 

The court hereby bifurcates the trial into: (1) a first phase on defendant’s liability, plaintiff’s compensatory damages, and defendant’s liability for punitive damages under Civil Code § 3294 and treble damages; and (2) if the jury finds defendant liable for punitive or treble damages, a second phase to determine the amount of punitive damages and enhanced or treble damages. 

The court hereby precludes admission of evidence of defendants’ profits or financial condition until the second phase of trial.