Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Latest Supreme Court decisions curtailing punitive damages awards:

Philip Morris USA v. Williams (2007) -- The court threw out a $79.5 million award to a smoker's widow, saying jurors were not properly limited in their consideration of harm caused to people who were not part of the lawsuit.

State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance v. Campbell (2003) -- Any punitive damages award more than 10 times the actual damages for an injury is presumed excessive, and juries may not consider out-of-state wrongdoing when weighing a company's actions. The court tossed out a $145 million award against State Farm for acting in bad faith by not settling claims against a policyholder involved in a fatal accident.

BMW v. Gore (1996) -- Punitive damages may not be "grossly out of proportion to the severity of the offense," the court said as it invalidated a $2 million award to the owner of a BMW for a flawed paint job.

Honda Motor Co. v. Oberg (1994) -- States may not prohibit judges from reviewing and reducing juries' punitive damages awards. The court struck down an Oregon law that gave juries the final say on such awards.

(c) USA TODAY, 2008