Top 2008 verdict: inventor gets $388 million

Gilbert Hyatt won a microprocessor patent in 1990 while a California resident.  In 1991, Gilbert moved to Nevada at the time his patent was paying off and he was receiving millions in licensing fees.  It seems the California tax assessor didn’t believe he had really moved to Nevada and hounded Mr. Hyatt for years, claiming he owed them taxes from 1991 and 1992.  They went so far as search through his trash while he was living in Nevada and disclosing information to third parties.  They attempted to claim that his visits to his physicians in California meant he was still a California resident even though these were long-standing relationships that he was willing to travel for to continue.  This suit went through many permutations and California refused to release documents to Mr. Hyatt that would have helped his case.  Here is the breakdown of the award.

*$138.1 million compensatory damages

*$52 million invasion of privacy damages

*1.1 million in attorney fees and costs.

Eight days later the jury voted 7 to 1 to tack on $250 million in punitive damages because they found that the tax agency had acted with oppression, fraud or malice.

Couple thoughts: It will be years before Mr. Hyatt sees any of this money and the courts will probably reduce the total considerably.  Second, the state did a bad job trying to get money for public purposes.  There wasn’t a private motive for the tax agency’s action.  So a public court rules that a public agency has to fork over $388  of public money to a presumably wealthy private citizen?  This whole thing is screwy.

Link to 2008 top jury verdicts

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