April 1, 2008

U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Punitive Damages Are Subject to the Eighth Amendment

In 1989, in Browning Ferris Industries v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., the Supreme Court held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eight Amendment does not apply to awards of punitive damages in cases between private parties. Today, the Court surprisingly overturned Browning-Ferris and held that punitive damages imposed by state courts are in fact governed by the Eighth Amendment. It remains to be seen how the overlay of Eighth Amendment jurisprudence will impact the ratio analysis set forth in State Farm v. Campbell and other cases; a colorable argument can be made that any awards exceeding compensatory damages are inherently excessive and therefore unconstitutional. Read the Court's opinion here.