WASHINGTON (May 15, 2007) — The U.S. Supreme Court on May 14 reversed and remanded a $55 million punitive damage award against Ford Motor Co. relating to a Ford Explorer rollover accident five years ago.
The Fourth Appellate District Court of California in San Diego must reconsider the damages granted to Benetta Buell-Wilson, who was rendered quadriplegic in January 2002 when her 1997 Ford Explorer rolled over 4.5 times.
Ms. Buell-Wilson claimed the vehicle's roof, which caved in, was defective in design, a charge Ford denies. The high court denied Ford's request to strike down the punitive damages altogether, but it did remand the case based on its decision in a tobacco damages case in February.
In that case, the court ruled 5-4 that juries may consider only the damage done to the plaintiff, not to other parties, by a product in determining punitive damages. The damages in Ms. Buell-Wilson's case had already been reduced several times; the original trial court granted her $246 million in punitive damages.
Business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hailed the decision as a victory. “It's unfair to punish companies like Ford when they have met all applicable government and industry safety standards,” said Steven Law, the chamber's chief legal officer and general counsel, in a statement.