Tomorrow marks the twentieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in BMW of North America. Inc. v. Gore, the first time the Court had ever held that a punitive damages award was unconstitutionally excessive under the Due Process Clause.
In the ensuing 20 years, the decision has proved to be a foundational case in punitive damages jurisprudence. It has been cited in hundreds, if not thousands, of lower court decisions; it has been the subject of dozens of scholarly articles; and it is featured in virtually every tort and remedies case book used in law schools.
Far from being “a road to nowhere,” as Justice Scalia charged in his dissenting opinion, BMW has served as a constraining force on punitive damages from the moment it was issued. Before BMW, no court anywhere had held that a punitive award was unconstitutionally excessive. After BMW, hundreds of punitive awards have been reduced after being found excessive under the “guideposts” announced in that decision.
Having been fortunate enough to have represented BMW in that historical case, we thought it appropriate to provide some reflections on the occasion of the decision’s twentieth anniversary.
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