On Tuesday, 10/31 the US Supreme Court will hear argument on the state of use and effect of punitive damages in our court system. Over the past 6 years or so, the court has steadily eroded the effectiveness of such damages, created to deter reckless and indifferent conduct, by limiting the recovery available when big business has manipulated or knowingly harmed 3rd parties.
Court watchers will be closely monitoring Justices Alito and Roberts’ every word and gesture in Philip Morris v. Williams, the case up for argument wherein a punitive damage award against a tobacco company will be reviewed.
The case promises to clear up, if not the law on punitive damages, at least some of the uncertainty about whether the new justices’ states’ rights philosophy will ever trump their sympathies for corporate America. The oral arguments promise to be lively.
We can only hope that the court will recognize that the only certain way to assure that big business puts safety over profits or acts as a fair and honorable corporate citizen is to give the jury the right to judge the severity and egregious nature of the conduct in question, unencumbered by damage caps, restrictions or limitations in the award they render. Anything short will ensure that the playing field will remain stacked against the consumer.