The Supreme Court this week left intact a $5.7 million damage award won by an Oregon man injured when his Honda all-terrain vehicle overturned and landed on him.
The court, without comment, turned down Honda's argument that the award was excessive and violated its due-process rights.Just last week, the nation's highest court curtailed punitive damage awards - those through which juries seek to punish or deter misconduct.
In that ruling, the court struck down as "grossly excessive" a $2 million award won by an Alabama doctor who was not told that his new BMW was damaged in shipping and had to have a paint touch-up.
In the Oregon case, Karl L. Oberg of Salem sued Honda after his three-wheel all-terrain vehicle overturned in October 1985 as he rode up an embankment.
The vehicle landed on Oberg, causing skull and facial fractures, eye and inner-ear injuries, brain damage and permanent disfigurement.
The jury found that Honda had made and sold an unsafe vehicle. Oberg was awarded $735,512 to compensate for his injuries, plus $5 million in punitive damages.
Honda appealed and won a Supreme Court ruling last year that Oregon could not bar judges from reviewing punitive damage awards to determine whether they are excessive.
The case was returned to the Oregon Supreme Court, which upheld the punitive damages awarded to Oberg. The court noted that Honda's net worth at the time of trial was $4.9 billion and said evidence was presented that Honda officials knew for years that the vehicles could cause injury or death.
In the appeal acted on, Honda's lawyers said the punitive award "bears no reasonable relationship to the actual or potential harm" to Oberg.