CACI 117 Wealth of Parties

California Civil Jury Instructions CACI

117 Wealth of Parties

In reaching a verdict, you may not consider the wealth or poverty of any party. The parties’ wealth or poverty is not relevant to any of the issues that you must decide.

Directions for Use

This instruction may be given unless liability and punitive damages are to be decided in a nonbifurcated trial. The defendant’s wealth is relevant to punitive damages. (Adams v. Murakami (1991) 54 Cal.3d 105, 108 [284 Cal.Rptr. 318, 813 P.2d 1348].) Otherwise, the wealth or lack of it is not relevant. (Hoffman v. Brandt (1966) 65 Cal.2d 549, 552–553 [55 Cal.Rptr. 417, 421 P.2d 425].) If this instruction is given in a nonbifurcated trial, it should be modified to clarify that the prohibition on considering wealth applies only to liability and compensatory damages, and not to punitive damages. For discussion of the role of a defendant’s financial condition with regard to punitive damages, see the punitive damages instructions in the Damages series, CACI Nos. 3940–3949.

Sources and Authority

“Justice is to be accorded to rich and poor alike, and a deliberate attempt by counsel to appeal to social or economic prejudices of the jury, including the wealth or poverty of the litigants, is misconduct where the asserted wealth or poverty is not relevant to the issues of the case. The possibility, even if true, that a judgment for plaintiffs would mean that defendant would have to go to the Laguna Honda Home, had no relevance to the issues of the case, and the argument of defense counsel was clearly a transparent attempt to appeal to the sympathies of the jury on the basis of the claimed lack of wealth of the defendant. As such, it was clearly misconduct.” (Hoffman, supra, 65 Cal.2d at pp. 552–553, internal citations omitted.)

“[W]here liability and punitive damages are tried in a single proceeding, evidence of wealth is admissible. ‘[W]hile in the ordinary action for damages information regarding the adversary’s financial status is inadmissible, this is not so in an action for punitive damages. In such a case evidence of defendant’s financial condition is admissible at the trial for the purpose of determining the amount that it is proper to award [citations]. The relevancy of such evidence lies in the fact that punitive damages are not awarded for the purpose of rewarding the plaintiff but to punish the defendant. Obviously, the trier of fact cannot measure the ‘punishment’ without knowledge of defendant’s ability to respond to a given award.’ ” (Las Palmas Associates v. Las Palmas Center Associates (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1220, 1243 [1 Cal.Rptr.2d 301], original italics.)

“In an action for damages, a showing of poverty of the plaintiff is highly prejudicial; if such evidence is deliberately introduced, it may constitute reversible error.” (Hart v. Wielt (1970) 4 Cal.App.3d 224, 234 [84 Cal.Rptr. 220].)

Secondary Sources

7 Witkin, California Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Trial, §§ 215, 216
4 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 54, Punitive Damages, § 54.24 (Matthew Bender)
15 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 177, Damages, § 177.51[14] (Matthew Bender)
6 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 64, Damages: Tort, § 64.141 et seq. (Matthew Bender)