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CBS:

Rudy Giuliani files for bankruptcy following $146 million defamation suit judgment

Giuliani filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy less than a week after a jury ordered him to pay $146 million in damages to Fulton County election workers Ruby Freeman and Shaye Moss, who sued him for defamation. He estimates his liabilities are between about $100 million and $500 million. The damage award was originally set at $148 million, but the federal judge presiding over the case later reduced it to $145,969,000. [...]

Giuliani had falsely claimed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election that the election workers engaged in a fake ballot processing scheme.

The $146 million seems like an insanely high figure. Those two election workers probably would not make that much money in multiple of their lifetimes, so even if they were completely out of a job following Giuliani's statement, the ultimate figure seems hard to justify, except as punitive damages (maybe--I've not looked at the exact judgement). How are such numbers determined by US judges?

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    As far as I understand, the extremely high damages were solely decided by the jury. The plaintiffs had, in fact, asked for far less. Dec 22, 2023 at 15:37
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    The headline and body text question inaccurately suggest that the judge made the determination. The judge did not and generally doesn't. The determination was made by a jury as the quoted material notes, corroborated here: pbs.org/newshour/politics/…
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:10
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    The award was: "$16,171,000 to Ruby Freeman for defamation. $16,998,000 to Shaye Moss for defamation. $20 million to Freeman for emotional distress. $20 million to Moss for emotional distress. $75 million in punitive damages to both plaintiffs." cnn.com/politics/live-news/…
    – ohwilleke
    Dec 22, 2023 at 16:12

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Damages in defamation claims -- and virtually any other tort claim -- can generally be broken down into three primary categories.

The first category is economic damages, which includes lost wages, increased costs, and similar consequences of the tortfeasor's wrongdoing that are generally susceptible to reasonably reliable mathematical quantification.

The second category is non economic damages, which are probably most frequently the driver of very large jury awards. They include things like pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of consortium, and -- especially in defamation cases -- loss of reputation.

The third category is punitive damages, which conceptually, at least, shouldn't have anything to do with the amount of monetary injury the plaintiff has suffered; they are meant to ensure the defendant (and other potential future wrongdoers) is discouraged from engaging in this conduct in the future, and they are therefore more likely to rise and fall with the defendant's income than the plaintiff's.

I haven't seen the jury form, but I would imagine that in Giuliani's case, the lion's share of the award accounts for some combination of pain and suffering, loss of reputation, and punitive damages.

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  • I don't know whether that is relevant, but as far as I understand, the plaintiffs actually "only" asked for <50 million. The jury decided on their own to add another 90+ million. Dec 22, 2023 at 15:35
  • There were also aggravating factors like Giuliani refusing to produce documents during discovery, admitting that he defamed the plaintiffs, refusing to pay attorney's fees, disregarding court orders, failing to attend hearings, and apparently preparing to hide his assets. Dec 22, 2023 at 23:12
  • @jeffronicus was jury aware of any of that (apart from the admission, which is obviously relevant)? If so, were they instructed to take it into consideration in determining the award?
    – phoog
    Dec 24, 2023 at 16:24

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