WASHINGTON -- Business leaders praise the latest attempt by the U.S. Supreme Court to place limits on punitive damage awards imposed by lower courts in lawsuits.
But lawyers for some business groups say the justices need to do more - primarily to make clear that the newly outlined limits apply to cases in which faulty products cause deaths or injuries, not only to cases involving financial losses.
Those groups are pressing the nation's high court to accept two cases with punitive damage awards against Ford Motor Co.
In Romo vs. Ford, a California jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages to survivors of family members who died in 1993 when their 1978 Ford Bronco rolled over and the roof collapsed. The jury added $290 million in punitive damages for what it found to be Ford's bad behavior: selling a product it knew to be unsafe. The California Supreme Court upheld the award.
In Smith vs. Ford, a Kentucky jury awarded $20 million in punitive damages and $3 million in compensatory damages to survivors of a 30-year-old man crushed to death in 1993. The 1977 Ford F-250 pickup he was unloading slipped into reverse and pressed him against a storage building. The Kentucky Supreme Court upheld $15 million in punitive damages.
On April 7, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion limiting the ability of a lower court to consider a company's net worth and its behavior outside of the immediate case at hand when calculating punitive damages. Justices also said punitive damages should not be more than about four times compensatory damages.