Supreme Court Punitive Damages Ratio

In BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 134 L. Ed. 2d 809, 116 S. Ct. 1589 (1996), the United States Supreme Court explained that the trial courts, in scrutinizing the constitutionality of a punitive damage award, must review the ratio of the punitive damage award as compared to the actual harm to the plaintiff as reflected in the compensatory damage award. Id. at 582. A high ratio may be justifiable where a defendant's acts are particularly egregious, as determined in Parrott v. Carr Chevrolet, Inc., 156 Ore. App. 257, 965 P.2d 440 (1998), rev. allowed, 328 Ore. 418, 987 P.2d 511 (1999), concluding that repeated trade practices supported a $ 300,000 punitives award with only $ 11,000 in compensatory damages. Where there is no evidence of particularly egregious or evil behavior, however, there is simply no justification for a high ratio. See Jensen v. Medley, 170 Ore. App. 42, 11 P.3d 678, 689 (2000) (reducing punitive award where "the ratio of punitive damages to noneconomic damages in this case is about 35:1; no special circumstances are present in this case that justify an exceptionally high ratio of punitive damages in relation to compensatory damages").