Thursday, March 02, 2006

Punitive to compensatory ratio of 15,000:1 - will that pass constitutional muster?

The Kingsport paper reports here on the federal court trial of a civil rights case where the jury awarded $1 in compensatory damages but $15,000 in punitive damages against one defendant and $5,000 each against two other defendants.

In the State Farm case, the Supreme Court frowned on a punitives to compensatory damages ratio of 145:1, yet observed that "because there are no rigid benchmarks that a punitive damages award may not surpass, ratios greater than those we have previously upheld may comport with due process where 'a particularly egregious act has resulted in only a small amount of economic damages.'"

Mike linked just the other day to a Second Circuit opinion in a somewhat similar case, where the punitive damages were whacked from $20,000 to $10,000, based on what is in the federal law arguably the affirmative defense of inability to pay. As I wrote here, the case on this point that always comes to mind is the Joe Morgan airport case.

Do Ronnie, Nick, or Hilary read this blog, I wonder.

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