Target was hit with a sizable $3 million award to Rita Cantrell of Greenville, South Carolina. The award included punitive damages after Target sent out an email to businesses stating that Cantrell was a shoplifter trying to pass counterfeit cash.
Cantrell went to two Target stores in the Greenville area in Feb. 2006. On both occasions, she was refused the sale and accused of using a counterfeit bill. The bill turns out to be real, just dated. However, Target sent out the alert (with her picture) to businesses — including the one that Cantrell works at.
The U.S. Secret Service questioned Cantrell at her workplace, but found the bills to be authentic.
She sued the company for defamation and negligence and, after a three-day trial, the jury awarded her $100,000 for actual damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
Target will appeal, including challenging the fact that a $200 record of medical expenses supported a $100,000 compensatory damage award — which then supported the $3 million punitive award. The key to challenging punitive awards is to lower the compensatory figure as much as possible.
The size of the punitive award could cause some problems in light of recent Supreme Court rulings on the ratio between compensatory and punitive damages.
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