$2 Million Punitive Damages Award In Defamation Case Reduced To $81,600 On Appeal

Jerry Slovinski sued James Elliot, the CEO of Slovinski’s former employer, for defamation. Slovinski claimed that disparaging and untrue remarks were made about him by Elliot to one of the company’s suppliers.

A jury awarded Slovinski $81,600 for compensatory damages, and $2 million for punitive damages. The trial court thought the punitive damages verdict was too high, so it remitted it to $1 million. Slovinski appealed the remittitur, but the appellate court lowered the punitive damages verdict even more, to $81,600.

Slovinski appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court. He argued that the original $2 million verdict should stand because neither the trial court nor the appellate court stated specific reasons for lowering the verdict.

But the Illinois Supreme Court disagreed, and affirmed the lowered punitive damages verdict of $81,600. The supreme court ruled that neither the trial court nor the appellate court were required to give specific reasons for lowering the verdict. All that mattered was that the trial court record supported the remittitur. Here’s what the supreme court said: “For purposes of our review, it is irrelevant whether the appellate court articulated with sufficient clarity the reasons it had for reaching its decision. The issue for this court is simply whether the appellate court erred in holding that the circuit court should have reduced the jury’s award further.”

In the end, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the trial court abused its discretion by lowering the punitive damages verdict to $1 million because there was “no material evidence to support it.” Read the whole opinion, Slovinski v. Elliot, No. 107146 (4/15/10), by clicking here.