May 12, 2010

New Law Review Article on Philip Morris v. Williams

Professor Benjamin Zipursky of Fordham School of Law has posted an article on SSRN entitled Punitive Damages After Philip Morris v. Williams.

Among other things, the article discusses the Williams-based language that appears in California's model jury instructions (CACI). Prof. Zipursky gives the CACI language a favorable review, but he thinks Ohio's pattern instructions are a little better.

Here's an excerpt from the abstract:

Philip Morris USA v. Williams has struck some commentators as hypertechnical, but it is in fact among the Court’s most significant pronouncements on the topic of punitive damages. At its center is the “Nonparty Harm Rule”: it is a violation of due process for a court to permit a jury in a tort case to use punitive damages to punish a defendant for harming persons who are not parties in the litigation. The holding is difficult to understand because the Court simultaneously stated that it is permissible to augment a punitive damages award in light of a defendant’s heightened reprehensibility and it is permissible to infer heightened reprehensibility from the numerosity of the persons injured by defendant’s conduct, including nonparties. It is surprising because it appears to sound more in process, while prior cases have focused on the magnitude of the award. For both of these reasons, it is challenging to lower courts, who must craft jury instructions implementing Williams’ mandate. This article tackles all three problems.
Hat tip: TortsProf Blog.