Monday, November 27, 2006

After reflection

So I noted that today that the Supreme Court refused to uphold the the punitive damages awarded against Altria f/k/a Phillip Morris (who makes, markets, and sells cigarettes). In light of the State Farm verdict a few years ago, as well as the subsequent refinements which have been made to the holding in that case, this should have come as nothing as a suprise.

Which to my mind seems to show that the Supreme Court, as composed in this court and in the Rehnquist one which preceded it, seems to want to gut punitive damages. There are those on both sides of the litigation debate who will tell you that punitives are too high and onerous or too low and easy for the wrongdoers, but it seems that right now the jurisprudence is taking the side of businesses who seek to escape from punitives.

Punitives are there to ensure that a person, or corporation, which does a bad act that rises to a certain level should be punished for that act. By limiting the amount, the court is seeming to encourage the kind of risk calculation which gave us the Ford Pinto. It seems to me what the court should have done was up the standard by which defendant is judged when it comes to determining whether punitives are available. That way the true malfeasors are still held accountable in a way that does hurt them and avoids assigning punitive damages to simple negligence situtations.

Those are my half-formed thoughts on the subject.

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