Kentucky Supreme Court vacates $2.5 million punitive damages verdict
Stites & Harbison, PLLC, Client Alert, October 14, 2015
On September 24, 2015, the Kentucky Supreme Court vacated a $2.5 million punitive damage verdict in an automotive product liability case, Nissan Motors v. Maddox. The Court held plaintiff produced insufficient evidence of reckless or wanton disregard by the auto maker. The product at issue, the front passenger restraint system in a 2001 Nissan Pathfinder, fully complied with and exceeded all federal safety standards.
Stites & Harbison appellate attorneys John L. Tate and Bethany A. Breetz, based in Louisville, Ky., represented Nissan on appeal.
The Court’s decision to vacate punitive damages was based on the rationale that a manufacturer that designs and tests products in compliance with applicable safety standards—here, FMVSS and NCAP standards—cannot be adjudicated grossly negligent unless substantial additional evidence demonstrates reckless and wanton conduct. Maddox provided no such proof.
Maddox claimed that Nissan’s right front passenger restraint system was designed to earn the highest safety rating by maximizing effectiveness for the 170-pound test dummy mandated by federal test protocols. She claimed that maximizing the safety rating made the restraint system more dangerous for much heavier people like herself. Plaintiff called Nissan’s strategy of designing for the best safety rating “putting stars over safety.”
On October 8, 2015, Maddox petitioned the court for a rehearing on its decision.