Tuesday, February 20, 2007
In a Breyer opinion, the Supreme Court vacated a $79.5 million punitive damage award. Key points at first reading:
- Punishing defendants for harm to nonparties is a due process violation. Evidence of harm to nonparties can be relevant to determine reprehensibility, but not as a basis for a punishment increase.
- Let me say that again: harm to others cannot be a basis for punishment. This is new, and a big deal.
- So if a state is going to allow harm to others into evidence, it also has to create procedures to ensure that it only goes to determining the risk of harm to others (= reprehensibility), but not to the amount of damages awarded.
- Because the remand on this issue will probably result in a different award, the Court doesn't deal with whether the amount is unconstitutionally excessive.
Stevens, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Scalia dissented in a total of three opinions.