Monday, April 07, 2003

On that story, by the way, I'm not sure how I feel about the result of the opinion. I have no empirical problem with some sort of relationship between the level of damage suffered and the scope of the punitive damage; you shouldn't tag a supermarket chain with $300,000,000 in punitives for a spill in one of its stores that leads to a broken hip. On the other hand, "proportionality" is sort of a tricky thing, and I'd usually leave it to the jury to figure that one out. In a wrongful death case, is punitives ten times the economic damages proportionate? Six? One hundred? I don't like bright lines in situations like these, because so many different kinds of cases, with so many different causes of action, come before the courts.

That leads to why I have a problem with the result of the case in every other sense. This really should have been left to the states. A lot of states already have hard caps on punitive damages (which is to say, a flat figure, above which one cannot go); I'd argue that such a cap comes very close to a constitutional issue in itself. Those states that don't have caps are considering them. For the Supreme Court to go making up (yet another) rule, another malleable test -- well, let's just say that if Dred Scott couldn't teach them the danger of that ("substantive" due process), nothing I say here could make a difference.

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