A California state appellate court has refused to alter an earlier decision to award $82.6 million in damages to a paraplegic who claimed faulty design caused her car to crash. The U.S. Supreme Court had ordered the state court to reconsider its original ruling in light of the case of Philip Morris USA v. Williams, which had been decided by the High Court. In that decision, the Supreme Court held last year that jurors cannot punish defendants for harm to third parties when determining punitive damages.
Jurors originally awarded Benetta Buell-Wilson more than $368 million in damages, of which $246 million were punitives. In July 2006, the California court cut the total award to $82.6 million, of which $55 million were punitives. This new ruling affirmed that award, with the three justices unanimously saying there was nothing in Philip Morris that warranted a change in their judgment. Justice Gilbert Nares wrote in the 108-page ruling:
Based on our review of the record, plaintiffs’ counsel was not asking the jury to punish Ford for harm done to third parties. Rather, counsel was discussing the repeated nature of Ford’s actions in arguing the reprehensibility of Ford’s conduct. That argument was entirely proper and did not create a ‘significant risk’ the jury would punish Ford for injuries to third parties.
Buell-Wilson, a mother of two, was injured in January of 2002, when her 1997 Ford Explorer fishtailed as she tried to avoid a metal object. The sport utility vehicle rolled four times before coming to rest on its roof. At trial, Buell-Wilson’s lawyers argued that the Explorer’s design defects were derived from Ford’s rollover-prone Bronco II, but management ignored the risks. The jurors agreed and returned the verdict against Ford. The justices on the appeals court found the automaker’s conduct reprehensible but reduced the award. The California Supreme Court denied review, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted cert before remanding to the 4th District.
In the latest ruling, the appeals court listed several reasons the high court’s opinion in Philip Morris didn’t compel a reversal or further reduction: The court said Ford had submitted misleading jury instructions on third-party harm at trial, didn’t object in a timely manner to the plaintiff’s closing arguments during the punitive damages phase, hadn’t requested a limiting instruction during the trial’s liability phase and didn’t raise instructional error on appeal. Ford plans to appeal again to the Supreme Court.
Source: The Recorder
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.