Posts Tagged ‘Chrysler’

No constitutional right to punitive damages, cont’d

We’ve already mentioned this in the context of the Chrysler bankruptcy (criticized in some quarters for having divested the reorganized company of punitive damage exposure over pre-bankruptcy conduct) but here’s Drug and Device Law gathering up decisions from various states to confirm that, no, there is no vested or constitutional right to punitive damages:

Constitutional challenges have been rejected under due process, taking, jury trial, open courts and various other state constitutional provisions. It makes sense. While compensatory damages might present a closer question (depending on issues such as retroactivity), there’s simply no constitutional right for one private party to demand that another private party be punished.

Especially not when the putative purpose of the damages, to inflict financial distress on the target, has been obviated by an intervening bankruptcy.

April 11 roundup

  • “Public pool owners struggle to meet chair-lift deadline” [Springfield, Ill. Journal-Register, earlier]
  • Punitive damages aren’t vested entitlement/property, so why the surprise they’d be cut off in an administered Chrysler bankruptcy? [Adler]
  • More on how Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization would chip away rights of accused [Bader, Heritage, earlier]
  • Defending sale of raw milk on libertarian principle shouldn’t mean overlooking its real risks [Greg Conko/CEI; Mark Perry on one of many heavy-handed enforcement actions against milk vendors]
  • More tributes to longtime Cato Institute chairman Bill Niskanen [Regulation magazine (PDF), earlier]
  • Asbestos lawyers wrangle about alleged swiping of client files [Above the Law]
  • “Nathan Chapman & Michael McConnell: Due Process as Separation of Powers” [SSRN via Rappaport, Liberty & Law]

April 12 roundup

  • Town counsel of Southborough, Mass. considering legal action against online critic [Evan Lips/MetroWest Daily News, Jacob Sullum/Reason, Aspen Daily News]
  • “Drowning in laughter”: pic of ill-advised safety sign [Turley]
  • Canadian lawyer accused of fabricating evidence of jury tampering [Times Colonist h/t @ErikMagraken]
  • One union (SEIU) wins $1.5 million verdict against another (NUHW) [Fox, Jottings]
  • “Anti-Law School Blogs Seek to Keep Others from Making ‘Same Mistake We Did'” [Legal Blog Watch, WSJ Law Blog] Instruction at University of Texas law school has room for improvement [Blackbook Legal] Chief Justice Roberts: law review articles aren’t particularly helpful for practitioners or judges [WSJ Law Blog]
  • “Illinois Hospital Loses Tax-Exempt Status for Not Being Charitable Enough” [NLJ]
  • “Cyber-bullying” proposal in Suffolk County, N.Y. could criminalize repeated insults [Volokh]
    “Where’s the State Action in Tort Awards Based on Speech?” [same]
  • George Will: administration “can imagine the world without the internal combustion engine but not without Chrysler” [WaPo/syndicated]

High school agrees to halt Chrysler Rams logo use

Lake Mary High School concedes it has no legal grounds on which to resist Chrysler’s request. Contrary to many readers’ suggestions, the automaker did not agree to license the logo’s use on cordial terms. To quote the Orlando Sentinel account:

“As I am sure you can appreciate from your years of work with the board, control of use of a mark by enthusiastic students and parents is quite simply not practical, and I know the school and board would not want to be in the position of censoring student expression associated with the design,” wrote Judith Powell, an attorney for Chrysler.

(& welcome The Truth About Cars readers)

Florida school team swipes Chrysler’s “Rams” logo

And lawyering ensues [Sun-Sentinel, Orlando Sentinel]

P.S. Commenter VMS: “Sometimes corporations need to use their marketing brains rather than their legal muscle…. If Walter Chrysler were still around, he would have instructed his lawyers to license the mark to the team at minimal cost.”

Update: High school yields and a Chrysler lawyer explains the company’s rationale for not doing a license.

Update on Mraz v. Chrysler

Readers might remember the Mraz case, where a driver was run over by his own truck because he failed to engage the parking brake, and a jury nevertheless awarded $55 million. (March 8 and March 21, 2007.)

The Chrysler bankruptcy threw a wrench into the appellate process. Given the number of unsecured (and secured!) creditors who were taking a haircut on what Chrysler owed them, and the weakness of the case, one would expect the claim to be extinguished. But Chrysler unilaterally (and almost certainly politically) decided not to extinguish product-liability lawsuits against it, and the Mraz case has settled for $24 million. (Amanda Bronstad, “Chrysler bankruptcy judge approves $24 million personal injury settlement”, National Law Journal, Sep. 25). Of course, the likely $8-$10 million attorneys’ fee in this case is being funded by taxpayers’ bailout money.

SCOTUS refuses to review Flax punitive damages

I expressed skepticism this summer that the Exxon Shipping v. Baker decision was a positive sign for the Court’s punitive damages jurisprudence. After the replay of Philip Morris v. Williams and, now, the Court’s denial of certiorari in DaimlerChrysler v. Flax this week, I can say I was right.

As readers of Overlawyered know, the Tennessee Supreme Court reinstated $13.3 million of punitive damages over a good-faith dispute over a van’s seat back design (in an accident caused by a drunk driver), giving no credit to the fact that the design in question was safer than federal safety standards, or to Exxon Shipping’s suggestion that punitive damages greater than a 1:1 ratio were possibly constitutionally inappropriate where compensatory damages were substantial and the defendant’s actions were not intentional or done for profit. As I described the case back then:

In 2001, Louis Stockell, driving his pickup at 70 mph, twice the speed limit, rear-ended a Chrysler minivan. Physics being what they are, the front passenger seat in the van collapsed backwards and the passenger’s head struck and fatally injured 8-month old Joshua Flax. The rest of the family walked away from the horrific accident. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Butler argued that Chrysler, which already designed its seats above federal standards, should be punished for not making the seats stronger — never mind that a stronger and stiffer seat would result in more injuries from other kinds of crashes because it wouldn’t absorb any energy from the crash. (Rear-end collisions are responsible for only 3% of auto fatalities.) Apparently car companies are expected to anticipate which type of crash a particular vehicle will encounter, and design accordingly.

(h/t Cutting)