A federal judge has more than halved the $5.25 million a Vermont fertility doctor was ordered to pay to a Florida woman who accused him of deceptively using her own sperm for sex. to impregnate, to permeate.
Instead, Judge William K. Sessions III ordered Dr. John Boyd Coates III, of Shelburne, to pay a total of $2.2 million to Cheryl Rousseau, finding that a jury had erred in the calculation of damages in his civil suit.
Coates’ attorneys had requested a new trial after the jury’s verdict in March, arguing in court documents that the $5 million in punitive damages and $250,000 in compensatory damages were excessive. Rousseau’s lawyers disagreed.
Compensatory damages seek to compensate victims for loss suffered as a result of a defendant’s actions, while punitive damages punish the defendant and act as a deterrent to others who might act in the same way. .
In its 24-page decision filed in federal court in Burlington on Tuesday, Sessions wrote that $200,000 in compensatory damages was more in line with previous awards for similar claims of “significant emotional distress.”
Sessions wrote that a multi-digit ratio of punitive to compensatory damages has raised “due process issues” in past appellate court rulings. He called the jury’s 25:1 punitive-to-compensatory ratio in the Coates case “too high.”
The judge wrote that he had to “strike a balance between acknowledging the reprehensible nature” of Coates’ conduct “while respecting federal and state limits on awarding punitive damages.”
“The Court further finds that a ratio of 10:1, thus bringing the award of punitive damages to $2,000,000, is the ‘outer limit’ of what would be permissible having regard to all relevant factors” , wrote Sessions.
The judge wrote that he would order a new trial to determine damages if Rousseau was unhappy with the reduction.
Celeste Laramie, the attorney representing Rousseau, said Wednesday that she had just seen the judge’s order and had not yet had time to discuss options with her client.
“We’re disappointed that he saw fit to cut it back, but the logic (of Sessions), as with all of his opinions, is very well thought out,” Laramie said.
Peter Joslin, an attorney for Coates, did not return a phone message Wednesday afternoon.
Following the three-day trial in March, the eight-person jury ruled in favor of Rousseau on all counts in the trial against Coates, including fraud, breach of contract, battery and default. to obtain informed consent.
The award of $5.25 million in damages reflected the exact amount Rousseau’s legal team was seeking.
According to the 2018 lawsuit, Rousseau visited Coates for fertility treatment more than four decades ago while practicing in Vermont.
She sued after her daughter, through the use of online sites Ancestry.com and 23andme.com, uncovered information about her birth father that was traced back to Coates as a sperm donor, according to the trial.
Coates, who is now retired, spoke at his trial, admitting that he had denied in previous depositions having used his semen to impregnate Rousseau. However, he later changed his story after learning that a court-ordered DNA test had revealed with 99.99% certainty that he was the biological father of Rousseau’s daughter.
Coates testified that he did not recall using his own semen or that he even had Rousseau as a patient, leading to conflicting stories. He realized he was the donor in the face of DNA results, he said.
According to the lawsuit, Rousseau said she told Coates she wanted the donor to have her husband’s characteristics and that the doctor told her the donor would be an unnamed medical student.
Another woman had also filed a lawsuit against Coates alleging similar conduct. This lawsuit is still pending in federal court in Burlington.
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