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Old 05-19-2003, 22:55   #1 (permalink)
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Supreme Court: Reconsider $290 million award in SUV rollover case

Monday, May 19, 2003
By Gina Holland / Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Ford Motor Co. won a Supreme Court victory Monday in its effort to avoid paying a record $290 million for a sport utility vehicle roll-over accident that killed three family members a decade ago.

The justices ordered a California court to consider whether the damage award was out-of-line. The high court also told Kentucky judges to decide whether Ford owed $18 million to the family of a miner killed when a Ford pickup truck slipped into reverse and crushed him.

The amounts could be reduced under a recent Supreme Court ruling setting limits on punitive damages. The high court did not give a formula for determining what punishment is reasonable but said in April that juries should not consider a company's wealth in making the decision.

That ruling is especially important for large companies like Ford that can face multiple lawsuits over their products.

The California case stems from an interstate wreck in 1993 that killed a couple and their teenage son. A jury said the Dearborn, Mich., automaker should pay $290 million in punitive damages, or about 1.2 percent of Ford's net worth at the time, as punishment for what a state appeals court found was "despicable conduct."

Ford attorney Theodore Boutrous Jr. had told the Supreme Court that it was the largest personal injury affirmed on appeal in United States history.

He said that Ford was unfairly portrayed as a killer and that the large award in this case and others "make a mockery of due process" rights.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the family's attorney, said the company advertised its Bronco's as "Ford Tough," while cutting corners in its design. "Ford's misconduct cost three human lives and risked thousands more," he told justices. The case is Ford Motor Co. v. Juan Ramon Romo, 02-1097.

In the Kentucky case, that state's Supreme Court will revisit its close decision in the death of 30-year-old Tommy Smith. The case is Ford Motor Co. v. Estate of Tommy Smith, 02-1096.

Separately Monday, the Supreme Court said that the city of Los Angeles was not violating the rights of motorists who want to contest fees charged for towing illegally parked cars. At issue was how long it took to schedule hearings.

The court, in an unsigned opinion issued without holding oral arguments, said an appeals court wrongly sided with a senior citizen who paid $134.50 to get back his car, towed in 1998 while he was at a doctor's appointment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that state law and the Constitution required the city to give Edwin David a speedy hearing. The Supreme Court said that holding the hearing within 30 days was soon enough. The case is City of Los Angeles v. David, 02-1212.
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