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Asset/Property Discovery in Punitive Damage Claims

One factor for a jury/judge to consider in a request for a punitive damages is the nature and extent of a defendant’s particular assets or finances. The reasoning is that if punitive damages are meant as a deterrent for particularly egrious conduct, a higher amount is necessary to drive home the point if the defendant is a  large, wealthy corporation (versus a smaller individual defendant). Because the issue is legally relevant, many litigants will inquire into a defendant’s financial situation in discovery. 

There is, however, a limitation on this discovery right contained in Section 510.263.8, RSMo:

“Discovery as to a defendant’s assets shall be allowed only after a finding by the trial court that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff will be able to present a submissible case to the trier of fact on the plaintiff’s claim of punitive damages.”

Accordingly, there must be a specific finding by the trial court that Plaintiff will be able to present a submissible case to the judge/jury on punitive damages. In other words, there must be some reasonable factual basis for the judge/jury to award punitive damages before discovery on assets may be commenced.