'Bones' $128M Punitive Damages Award Against Fox Reversed by Judge

Fox challenged an arbitrator's ability to award punitive damages, and a California judge on Thursday sided with the studio.

Fox doesn't have to pay $128 million in punitive damages to the creators and stars of Bones, a California judge has ruled. 

Earlier this year, arbitrator Peter Lichtman levied one of the largest damages awards in Hollywood history against Fox, finding executives lied, cheated and committed fraud at the expense of the show’s stars, Emily Deschanel and David Boreanaz; executive producer Barry Josephson; and Kathy Reichs, who wrote the books upon which the series was based. They sued in 2015 claiming they were shortchanged on their share of the profits, and the fight was subsequently moved to arbitration under the terms of their contracts. 

Lichtman awarded the plaintiffs $179 million: $128 million in punitive damages, $32 million in compensatory damages, $10 million in prejudgment interest and more than $9 million in fees and costs.

Fox challenged the punitive damages, arguing the studio's contracts expressly precluded an arbitrator from issuing such an award. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Richard Rico on Thursday agreed. 

"The motion to confirm the award is denied, the motion to correct the award is granted," states the minute order. "Punitive damages shall be stricken from the award. The award will be corrected and confirmed as so modified." Rico has not yet issued a full ruling explaining the reasoning behind his decision.

“Today's decision in no way impacts the arbitrator's findings that our clients are owed more than $50 million for Fox’s fraudulent and deceitful accounting," said Daniel Saunders, the attorney for Boreanaz, Deschanel and Reichs, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "It deals only with the technical issue of whether our clients waived their right to receive punitive damages. As the arbitrator concluded, they did not — and we look forward to showing the Court of Appeal why it should reverse today’s ruling.”

Added Josephson's attorney Dale Kinsella, "We respectfully and profoundly disagree with the trial court’s order eliminating the punitive damages award against Fox. While the ruling contains no reasoning, we are confident that when the appellate court reviews the Award with the required deference, without regard to the trial court’s finding, the original award will be reinstated." 

Fox on Thursday also issued a brief statement in response to the decision: "We are pleased with the Court’s decision to strike punitive damages from the award and vindicating our position. We look forward to concluding the litigation.”

The studio was represented by Daniel Petrocelli, who hasn't personally commented on the ruling.