March 7, 2008

Is This the First Time the Oregon Supreme Court Has Reduced a Punitive Damages Award as Unconstitutionally Excessive?

As far as I can tell, the Oregon Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Goddard v. Farmers Insurance may be the first time the Oregon Supreme Court has ever reduced a punitive damages award as unconstitutionally excessive in the 12 years since the U.S. Supreme Court established the due process constraints on punitive damages in BMW v. Gore. This is quite a surprising turn of events from the court that recently affirmed a $79.5 million punitive damages award after a reversal by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In addition to Williams, here are some other cases in which the Oregon high court has rejected excessiveness arguments:

Parrott v. Carr Chevrolet, Inc., 17 P.3d 473, 487-90 (Or. 2001) (applying BMW v. Gore, but approving an 87:1 ratio in light of the defendant’s “particularly egregious acts”);

Lakin v. Senco Prods., Inc., 987 P.2d 463, 476 (Or. 1999) (affirming $4 million punitive damage award in product liability action)

Oberg v. Honda Motor Co., Ltd., 888 P.2d 8, 14 (Or. 1995) (affirming punitive damages award after U.S. Supreme Court had reversed and remanded for excessiveness review).

Is anyone aware of a case, prior to Goddard, in which the Oregon Supreme Court found a punitive damages award to be unconstitutionally excessive?