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Bruce Roberts
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United States Supreme Court Orders Lower Court to Review Punitive Damage Award

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The United States Supreme Court has ordered a California appeals court to review its decision upholding an 82.6 million dollar Award to a woman who was paralyzed after her Ford Explorer rolled over. The Justices on the Supreme Court want the California court to review its decision to make sure it follows the a recent United States Supreme Court decision overturning a 79.5 million dollar Award of punitive damages on a tobacco case.

In that particular case the United States Supreme Court held that, a jury may punish a defendant only for the harm it caused in that particular case, not for the general harm the defendant had done in other cases. In the Ford Explorer case, the consumer, Denetta Duell-Wilson, age 51, was driving on an interstate in San Diego, California when she swerved to miss a metal object in the road. When she swerved, she lost control of the Ford Explorer and it rolled over approximately four times. Denetta Duell was paralyzed from rollover. She then filed her personal injury lawsuit against Ford seeking actual and punitive damages.

In June 2004 a San Diego jury found that her Explorer was defective because of instability and a weak roof.

A jury initially awarded $369 million, including $246 million in punitive damages. It was the first damage award against the Ford Motor Company involving a rollover of an Explorer and one of the biggest personal-injury awards ever against an automaker.

Courts twice cut the size of the award. The $82.6 million approved by a California state appeals court now includes punitive damages of $55 million.

Ford’s legal team, led by former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, asked the court to take the case because it said Ford was being punished even though the design of the vehicle met federal safety standards.