BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 25 (1996)

Page:   Index   Previous  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  Next

Cite as: 517 U. S. 559 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

indeed we cannot, draw a mathematical bright line between the constitutionally acceptable and the constitutionally unacceptable that would fit every case. We can say, however, that [a] general concer[n] of reasonableness . . . properly enter[s] into the constitutional calculus.' " Id., at 458 (quoting Haslip, 499 U. S., at 18). In most cases, the ratio will be within a constitutionally acceptable range, and remittitur will not be justified on this basis. When the ratio is a breathtaking 500 to 1, however, the award must surely "raise a suspicious judicial eyebrow." TXO, 509 U. S., at 481 (O'Connor, J., dissenting).

Sanctions for Comparable Misconduct

Comparing the punitive damages award and the civil or criminal penalties that could be imposed for comparable misconduct provides a third indicium of excessiveness. As Justice O'Connor has correctly observed, a reviewing court engaged in determining whether an award of punitive damages is excessive should "accord 'substantial deference' to legislative judgments concerning appropriate sanctions for the conduct at issue." Browning-Ferris Industries of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U. S., at 301 (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). In Haslip, 499 U. S., at 23, the Court noted that although the exemplary award was "much in excess of the fine that could be imposed," imprisonment was also authorized in the criminal context.38 In this

38 Although the Court did not address the size of the punitive damages award in Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp., 464 U. S. 238 (1984), the dissenters commented on its excessive character, noting that the "$10 million [punitive damages award] that the jury imposed is 100 times greater than the maximum fine that may be imposed . . . for a single violation of federal standards" and "more than 10 times greater than the largest single fine that the Commission has ever imposed." Id., at 263 (Blackmun, J., dissenting). In New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254 (1964), the Court observed that the punitive award for libel was "one thousand times greater than the maximum fine provided by the Alabama criminal statute," and concluded that the "fear of damage awards under a rule such as


Page:   Index   Previous  18  19  20  21  22  23  24  25  26  27  28  29  30  31  32  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007