The Tennessee Supreme Court has reaffirmed a lower trial court’s decision awarding a couple $13 million in punitive damages in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed against the former DaimlerChrysler AG. The initial trial ruling awarded the couple $98 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit states that in 2001, eight-month-old Joshua Flax was riding in the backseat of a 1998 Dodge Caravan when the automobile was rear-ended. This caused the passenger seat to collapse, and the passenger in the seat to strike Joshua, fracturing his skull.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 3-2 that the automaker acted recklessly and the award for punitive damages was not excessive. The Court did, however, reverse the lower court’s decision to also award the victim’s mother $6 million in punitive damages for emotional distress.
In this case, at least the Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed the punitive aspect of the verdict, finding that Chrysler’s conduct was egregious enough to warrant punitive damages. This part of the ruling is a victory for the citizens of Tennessee, despite the recent punitive damages decision by the United States Supreme Court in the Exxon Valdez case. The U.S. Supreme Court in the Valdez case effectively let Exxon off the hook for its egregious conduct in the Alaska oil spill at issue.