The Second Circuit has ruled that punitive damages are capped at a 2 to 1 ratio. Turley v. ISG Lackawanna, Inc., et al., — F.3d —, Case No. 13-561 (2nd Cir. 2014), available at http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/edbb5942-f7d6-49ff-9ac3-9406fe3f1ec0/1/doc/13-561_opn.pdf#xml=http://www.ca2.uscourts.gov/decisions/isysquery/edbb5942-f7d6-49ff-9ac3-9406fe3f1ec0/1/hilite/.
This despite the implicit approval of a 4 to 1 ratio by the U.S. Supreme Court. See Browning- Ferris Indus. of Vt., Inc. v. Kelco Disposal, Inc., 492 U.S. 257, 276, n.22 (1989); Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Haslip, 111 S.Ct. 1032 (U.S. 1991) and progeny (though admiralty punitive damages are capped at 1 to 1).
The Texas Supreme Court overruled statutory caps permitting higher ratios upon proof of certain types of criminal conduct (such as murder), and said that even a 4 to 1 ratio was usually too high.
the Court has steadily restricted exemplary damages and tightened the due-process standards by which courts assess them. The prevailing principle is that a “grossly excessive” award offends due process because it “furthers no legitimate purpose and constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of property.”
Bennett v. Reynolds, 53 Tex.S.Ct.J. 883, 887 (Tex. 2010). The U.S. Supreme Court found an 8th Amendment issue over 25 years ag0 which had escaped constitutional scholars for almost 200 years. Now, other courts continue to lower the ratio, even in the face of legislation to the contrary.
And of course, punitive damages do further a legitimate purpose, to wit, to tell bad actors that their conduct is not acceptable. Bad actors do not care about platitudes, but will change conduct if it costs them money. This is America after all, and money shapes conduct. A jury is uniquely situated to determine how much, if any, a bad actor should pay for bad conduct. The courts should defer to the democratic process and, except in unusual cases, affirm societies judgment on such bad conduct.