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Trial Courts Have a Duty to Review Punitive Damages for Excessiveness
Description Jury awarded buyer of defective car, alleged to be in good condition by the dealer, $210,000 in punitive damages. Appeals court held that under federal and state law the trial court had a duty to review punitives for possible excessiveness. The amount may have been allowed by the judge, but a rationale must be given.
Topic Court Procedure
Key Words Punitive Damages
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Grabinski bought a used GMC from a Ford dealer. She was told that the $5,500, nine-year old vehicle was in "A-l" condition, had never been in an accident, and had one previous owner. She was told that state law required her to sign an affidavit that the vehicle was being sold for junk and had not been inspected. Soon after she bought the car, she discovered it had major mechanical problems, had been in a wreck, and had several previous owners. She also learned that she did not have to sign the affidavit she was told she had to sign. She sued for consumer fraud under the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and was awarded the value of the vehicle plus $210,000 in punitive damages. The dealer appealed.
Court of Appeals Decision Reversed in part. The trial court had a duty, under state and federal law, to review punitive damage awards for excessiveness. Trial courts must review punitive damage awards by juries. That does not mean that the judge may have left this award in place, but the trial record must indicate the rationale used by the judge to allow such damages to stand.
Citation Grabinski v. Blue Springs Ford Sales, Inc., 136 F.3d 565 (8th Cir., 1998)

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