Copyright (c) 1994 Villanova University
Villanova Law Review
SYMPOSIUM: PUNITIVE DAMAGES AWARDS IN PRODUCT LIABILITY LITIGATION: STRONG MEDICINE OR POISON PILL?: MULTIPLE PUNITIVE DAMAGE AWARDS
39 Vill. L. Rev. 433
Jerry J. Phillips *
The United States Supreme Court has upheld punitive damage awards against constitutional attacks based on the Excessive Fines Provision of the Eighth Amendment and on the Due Process Clause. 1 In its most recent punitive damage case, TXO Production Corp. v. Alliance Resources Corp., 2 the Court found that due process was not violated by the imposition of a punitive damage award of ten million dollars against an oil and gas company, even though the award was 526 times greater than the actual damages. 3 Although the Court recognized that due process places substantive limits on the amount of punitive damages, it found that there was no mathematical bright-line with which to distinguish constitutionally acceptable awards from constitutionally unacceptable awards. 4 Rather, the Court emphasized the reasonableness of the award and the existence of procedural safeguards as key factors in its constitutional calculus. 5 The TXO decision, thus, seems to lay to rest federal constitutional concerns about punitive damage awards based on insufficient guidelines and excessiveness. 6
The constitutionality of multiple punitive damage awards arising out of the same conduct, or same course of conduct, however, is a major issue that the Supreme Court has not yet considered. The issue has been considered by a number of lower courts, various state courts and the awards that have been upheld against constitutional attack. 7 Multiple punitive damage awards are generally challenged as violating the Due Process Clause by punishing defendants repeatedly for essentially the same conduct. 8
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