Yesterday a California appeals court reinstated an $82.6 million award to a woman who was left a paraplegic after a rollover accident in her Ford Explorer. Benetta Buell-Wilson’s spine was crushed when the vehicle rolled over and the roof collapsed due to a defect that Ford was allegedly aware of and failed to remedy or warn consumers about. At the original trial a jury awarded Buell-Wilson and her husband $246 million in punitive damages alone, but the amount was reduced by the trail judge to $75 million, and reduced again on appeal to $55 million.
The U.S. Supreme Court had vacated the San Diego court’s previous judgment and ordered it to reconsider the award in light of a high court ruling that juries cannot use punitive damages to punish defendants for harm caused to third parties.
The high court reiterated, however, that juries may consider harm to third parties in determining the reprehensibility of a defendant’s conduct, a factor in damages calculations.
The appeals court rejected a bid from Ford for a new trail and concluded that original decision should be upheld. A Ford spokeswoman said the company was disappointed with the decision and the plans to appeal the verdict.