Wisconsin Supreme Court
Constitutional Law — due process — punitive damages
A $1 million punitive damage award for bad faith by an insurance company violates due process, where the damages are less than $30,000.
“We conclude, in consideration of the case law, that the appropriate amount of punitive damages in this case is $210,000. Comparing the amount of this award to the $69,738.49 amount of compensatory and potential damages results in a ratio of approximately 3:1, below the ratio we upheld in Trinity, and just below the constitutional ‘line’ mentioned by the Supreme Court in BMW, 517 U.S. at 581, and Haslip, 499 U.S. at 23. Because ‘[t]he precise award in any case, of course, must be based upon the facts and circumstances of the defendant’s conduct and the harm to the plaintiff,’ Campbell, 538 U.S. at 425, we conclude that this amount effectively punishes First American’s misconduct, while acknowledging that its conduct did not rise to level of egregiousness found in prior punitive damages cases.”
Reversed and Remanded.
Attorneys: For Appellant: Leair, Rebecca E., Waukesha; Nielsen, J. Bushnell, Waukesha; Petitjean, John R., Green Bay; For Respondent: Weber, David H., Green Bay; Schmidt, T. Wickham, Green Bay