BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 22 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

a material fact which Alabama law obligated it to communicate to prospective purchasers of repainted cars in that State. But the omission of a material fact may be less reprehensible than a deliberate false statement, particularly when there is a good-faith basis for believing that no duty to disclose exists.

That conduct is sufficiently reprehensible to give rise to tort liability, and even a modest award of exemplary damages does not establish the high degree of culpability that warrants a substantial punitive damages award. Because this case exhibits none of the circumstances ordinarily associated with egregiously improper conduct, we are persuaded that BMW's conduct was not sufficiently reprehensible to warrant imposition of a $2 million exemplary damages award.


The second and perhaps most commonly cited indicium of an unreasonable or excessive punitive damages award is its ratio to the actual harm inflicted on the plaintiff. See TXO, 509 U. S., at 459; Haslip, 499 U. S., at 23. The principle that exemplary damages must bear a "reasonable relationship" to compensatory damages has a long pedigree.32 Scholars have identified a number of early English statutes authorizing the

32 See, e. g., Grant v. McDonogh, 7 La. Ann. 447, 448 (1852) ("[E]xemplary damages allowed should bear some proportion to the real damage sustained"); Saunders v. Mullen, 66 Iowa 728, 729, 24 N. W. 529 (1885) ("When the actual damages are so small, the amount allowed as exemplary damages should not be so large"); Flannery v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 15 D. C. 111, 125 (1885) (when punitive damages award "is out of all proportion to the injuries received, we feel it our duty to interfere"); Houston & Texas Central R. Co. v. Nichols, 9 Am. & Eng. R. R. Cas. 361, 365 (Tex. 1882) ("Exemplary damages, when allowed, should bear proportion to the actual damages sustained"); McCarthy v. Niskern, 22 Minn. 90, 91-92 (1875) (punitive damages "enormously in excess of what may justly be regarded as compensation" for the injury must be set aside "to prevent injustice").

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