BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 18 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

"nonviolent crimes are less serious than crimes marked by violence or the threat of violence." Solem v. Helm, 463 U. S. 277, 292-293 (1983). Similarly, "trickery and deceit," TXO, 509 U. S., at 462, are more reprehensible than negligence. In TXO, both the West Virginia Supreme Court and the Justices of this Court placed special emphasis on the principle that punitive damages may not be "grossly out of proportion to the severity of the offense." 25 Id., at 453, 462. Indeed, for Justice Kennedy, the defendant's intentional malice was the decisive element in a "close and difficult" case. Id., at 468.26

In this case, none of the aggravating factors associated with particularly reprehensible conduct is present. The harm BMW inflicted on Dr. Gore was purely economic in nature. The presale refinishing of the car had no effect on its performance or safety features, or even its appearance for at least nine months after his purchase. BMW's conduct evinced no indifference to or reckless disregard for the health and safety of others. To be sure, infliction of economic injury, especially when done intentionally through affirmative acts of misconduct, id., at 453, or when the target is financially vulnerable, can warrant a substantial penalty. But this observation does not convert all acts that cause economic harm into torts that are sufficiently reprehensible to justify a significant sanction in addition to compensatory damages.

Dr. Gore contends that BMW's conduct was particularly reprehensible because nondisclosure of the repairs to his car formed part of a nationwide pattern of tortious conduct. Certainly, evidence that a defendant has repeatedly engaged in prohibited conduct while knowing or suspecting that it was unlawful would provide relevant support for an argu-25 Pacific Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Haslip, 499 U. S. 1, 22 (1991).

26 The dissenters also recognized that "TXO's conduct was clearly wrongful, calculated, and improper . . . ." TXO, 509 U. S., at 482 (opinion of O'Connor, J.).

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