• Montana Judge Reduces Punitives In Automotive Case But Award Still Vulnerable On Appeal
  • October 9, 2014
  • Law Firm: Sutherland Asbill Brennan LLP - Washington Office
  • In May, we posted that a Montana jury awarded the family of two teens involved in a fatal car crash $240 million in punitive damages because of an alleged manufacturing defect in the steering knuckles of the car’s suspension system.  Last week, the presiding judge affirmed the jury’s award but reduced the punitive damage award to $72,960,012 given that just more than $8 million were awarded as compensatory damages.

    At trial, the manufacturer had argued that the crash occurred because the teens were lighting fireworks in the car while the plaintiffs blamed the allegedly defective steering knuckle.  The plaintiffs were allowed to introduce evidence of more than one hundred previous warranty replacements for steering knuckles to the jury.  The jury based the punitive damage award on a finding that the car manufacturer acted with actual malice by knowing of the defect and refusing to recall the vehicles to fix the issue.  The plaintiffs originally asked the jury for an $80 million punitive damage award, but the jury multiplied the requested amount threefold.  The verdict is likely to continue being appealed despite the reduction in punitive damages.  In order for the punitive damage award to be higher than $10 million, the judge had to take the position that Montana’s current punitive damages cap is unconstitutional.