July 29, 2008

Buell-Wilson v. Ford: Two of the Three Issues Raised in the Petition are Not Dependent on the United States Supreme Court's Opinion in Williams III

A few weeks ago we blogged about the California Supreme Court's grant of review in Buell-Wilson v. Ford, and we noted that case is on hold pending the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Philip Morris v. Williams (Williams III). As we noted here, however, Ford's petition raised three issues, two of which are independent of the issue presented in Williams III. Those issues are: (1) As a matter of California law and federal due process, are punitive damages prohibited in product liability cases where the manufacturer’s design conformed to objective indicators of reasonable safety, including industry standards and custom, governmental safety standards and policy judgments, and the existence of a genuine debate about what the law requires? and (2) Is a $55 million punitive damage award, imposed in addition to $18 million in non-economic damages, in a case involving a single accident where the vehicle’s design was objectively reasonable, unconstitutionally excessive and arbitrary?

The California Supreme Court's online docket confirms that the court granted review on each of the three issues, and did not limit review to the Williams III issue. After the decision in Williams III comes out, the California Supreme Court could then move forward to decide the other two issues raised in the petition, or the court could remand the case back to the Court of Appeal for a further opinion in light of Williams III. Thus, this case could end up deciding far more than simply the narrow Williams III issue.