BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 31 (1996)

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

Breyer, J., concurring

duty to disclose, which was gross, oppressive, or malicious and committed with the intention . . . of thereby depriving a person or entity of property") (emphasis added); 6-11- 20(b)(2) ("Malice" includes any "wrongful act without just cause or excuse . . . [w]ith an intent to injure the . . . property of another") (emphasis added); 6-11-20(b)(5) ("Oppression" includes "[s]ubjecting a person to . . . unjust hardship in conscious disregard of that person's rights"). The statute thereby authorizes punitive damages for the most serious kinds of misrepresentations, say, tricking the elderly out of their life savings, for much less serious conduct, such as the failure to disclose repainting a car, at issue here, and for a vast range of conduct in between.

Second, the Alabama courts, in this case, have applied the "factors" intended to constrain punitive damages awards in a way that belies that purpose. Green Oil Co. v. Hornsby, 539 So. 2d 218 (Ala. 1989), sets forth seven factors that appellate courts use to determine whether or not a jury award was "grossly excessive" and which, in principle, might make up for the lack of significant constraint in the statute. But, as the Alabama courts have authoritatively interpreted them, and as their application in this case illustrates, they impose little actual constraint. (a) Green Oil requires that a punitive damages award "bear a reasonable relationship to the harm that is likely to occur from the defendant's conduct as well as to the harm that actually has occurred." Id., at 223. But this standard does little to guide a determination of what counts as a "reasonable" relationship, as this case illustrates. The record evidence of past, present, or likely future harm consists of (a) $4,000 of harm to Dr. Gore's BMW; (b) 13 other similar Alabama instances; and (c) references to about 1,000 similar instances in other States. The Alabama Supreme Court, disregarding BMW's failure to make relevant objection to the out-of-state instances at trial (as was the court's right), held that the last mentioned, out-of-state instances did not


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