Judge slashes US$12m damages award to William Koch in fake-wine case

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 10:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2014, 3:59am

A judge has thrown out a US$12 million punitive damages award to billionaire William Koch in his lawsuit accusing a fellow wine lover of selling him 24 bottles of fake Bordeaux, and reduced the award to just US$711,622.

District Judge J. Paul Oetken, in Manhattan, agreed with the defendant, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Eric Greenberg, that the jury's April 2013 award was "exorbitant", being more than 33 times the US$355,811 it awarded in compensatory damages.

Oetken also lowered those damages to US$212,699, reflecting Koch's prior settlement with Zachys Wine Auctions, reducing the total award to US$924,321 from nearly US$12.4 million.

"The jury found that [Greenberg] had shamelessly defrauded customers with 'garbage'," Oetken wrote. "Yet his conduct did not cause a particularly egregious harm: he was dealing in luxury goods marketed to a sophisticated and wealthy subset of the population. The harm was strictly economic, and the victims were far from vulnerable consumers. These facts merit a relatively low award of punitive damages." Oetken said punitive damages equal to two times compensatory damages would punish Greenberg and deter other fraudsters.

In letting the verdict stand, the judge said Greenberg did not meet his "heavy burden" of showing that reasonable jurors could not have ruled against him. Greenberg had said he thought the wines were authentic.