News Jul 1, 2024

Victims of Charlottesville Rally Eligible for Higher Punitive Damages Against Leaders of “Unite the Right” Rally, Fourth Circuit Rules

As reported by the Washington Post, the AP, and other publications, Paul, Weiss and co-counsel Hecker Fink and Cooley LLP won an appeal in the Fourth Circuit on July 1, 2024. The court overturned a lower court decision capping punitive damages at $350,000 total for victims of the 2017 "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The panel ruled that Virginia's punitive damages cap must be applied per plaintiff, potentially restoring at least $2 million in damages. The court also affirmed joint and several liability for the defendants.

“Over two years ago, the jury used its $24 million punitive damages award to send an unmistakable message to the defendants and to the public about the outrageous misconduct that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia. While the law compels us to reduce the award, it’s long past time for that message to be delivered,” the Fourth Circuit panel wrote in its decision.

The ruling follows a 2021 trial where a jury awarded $26 million to nine plaintiffs, including $24 million in punitive damages. The district court had subsequently reduced punitive damages to $350,000 total, interpreting Virginia’s cap as applying across all plaintiffs.

This decision sets an important precedent, allowing future plaintiffs to seek punitive damages that better deter misconduct. The case, filed in October 2017 against 23 organizers and participants of the rally, alleged conspiracy to commit racially motivated violence. Four defendants had appealed the joint and several liability ruling, while the plaintiffs’ lawyers cross-appealed the punitive damages cap interpretation.