Ford Motor Company v. Romo

PETITIONER: Ford Motor Company
RESPONDENT: Ramon Romo
LOCATION: United States District Court, C.D. California

DOCKET NO.: 02-1097
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 538 US 1028 (2003)
DECIDED: May 19, 2003

Facts of the case

When Romo's Ford Bronco swerved to avoid another vehicle, it rolled over, killing three of the Romo family and injuring three more. A California jury found that the rollover was caused by a dangerous flaw in the design of the Bronco, which Ford had willfully ignored. The jury awarded Romo $5 million in compensatory damages (which are intended to compensate the plaintiff for a loss) and $290 million in punitive damages (which are intended to punish the defendant for wrongdoing.) Ford argued that the very large award of punitive damages was excessive. Nevertheless, the California Fifth Appellate District Court of Appeal upheld the verdict, comparing the level of Ford's negligence to involuntary manslaughter. After the California Supreme Court declined to hear the case, Ford appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the punitive damages awarded by the jury were so excessive as to be prohibited by the Constitution's Due Process Clause.

Question

Is an award of $290 million in punitive damages, when full compensatory damages are $5 million, excessive and in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment?

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