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Ford wins review of $82M damage award


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Supreme Court has ordered a California court to review a punitive damage award against Ford Motor Co. in light of a February decision that held jurors cannot impose punitive damages on a defendant for harm allegedly caused to parties who were not part of the suit.

The case that the high court sent back Monday to the California Court of Appeal—Ford Motor Co. vs. Benetta Buell-Wilson et al.—involved an accident involving a Ford Explorer.

Ms. Buell-Wilson sued Ford after she suffered a severed spine when her Explorer rolled over. In 2004, a San Diego jury said that the vehicle was defective and awarded the woman nearly $370 million, of which about $246 million was punitive damages. Courts twice reduced the award, and the state appeals court approved an award of more than $82 million, of which $55 million was punitive damages.

Ford appealed to the Supreme Court, holding that it should not be subject to punitive damages because its design met federal standards. Several business organizations filed briefs with the high court backing Ford's contention that punitive damages should not be imposed under such circumstances.

On Monday, the high court directed the California court to review its decision to make sure that it was decided correctly in light of the Supreme Court's Feb. 20 decision in Philip Morris vs. Mayola Williams. In that case, the court ruled that the Oregon Supreme Court erred in allowing a punitive damage award against the tobacco company to stand because it represented damages allegedly suffered by parties who were not named in the suit.