WTK Connect Details

Court Reduces Damage Award Found to be Product of “Passion or Prejudice”

2006 | Topic: Product Liability

The Fourth District Court of Appeal has partially reversed a judgment awarding compensatory and punitive damages that it found violated the state law ban on awards that are the product of “passion or prejudice.”

In Buell-Wilson v. Ford Motor Co., 2006 Daily Journal D.A.R. 9367 (July 19, 2006), a motorist who was rendered a paraplegic after a rollover and roof crush of her sports utility vehicle brought a products liability action against the manufacturer and dealer.  After a jury verdict, the trial court reduced the motorist’s total compensatory and punitive damages.   The appeals court, located in San Diego, further cut the amount of the motorist’s compensatory damages and reduced the  punitive damages to an amount that is approximately a two-to-one ratio to the total compensatory damages award. 

While the Court of Appeals noted that it should not “substitute its appraisal, for that of a jury,” it found it may reverse or modify the judgment “if it appears that a verdict is so grossly disproportionate to any reasonable limit of compensation warranted by the facts as to shock the sense of justice and raise at once a strong presumption that it is based on prejudice or passion rather than sober judgment.”  The court agreed that, as part of its analysis, it was appropriate for it to review amounts awarded in prior cases for similar injuries, but said that the propriety of an award should be based upon the facts before it.