May 27, 2009

Daimler-Chrysler v. Flax: SCOTUS Declines to Review $13.3 Million Punitive Damages Award

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday denied Daimler-Chrysler's cert. petition in a case involving a $13.3 million punitive damages award to the parents of an 8-year-old who died in the crash of a Dodge Caravan. (See the court's online docket and yesterday's Order List.)

The jury originally awarded the plaintiffs compensatory damages of $5 million for wrongful death and another $2.5 million for negligent infliction of emotional distress (NIED). The jury then added nearly $98 million in punitive damages - - $65 million for wrongful death and $32.5 million for NIED. The trial court reduced the punitive damages to $13.3 million for wrongful death and $6.6 million for NIED.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the punitive damages award in its entirety, concluding that no punitive damages could be imposed based on the evidence.

The Tennessee Supreme Court, however, reinstated the wrongful death punitive damages award. Daimler-Chrysler argued under Philip Morris v. Williams that the trial court violated its due process rights by failing to instruct the jury not to punish the defendant for harm to non-parties, but the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected that argument because Daimler-Chrysler had not raised it in the Court of Appeals.

Overlawyered and Products Liability Prof Blog had posts about the Tennessee Supreme Court's opinion back in July 2008, describing the underlying facts.