Quote of the Day Supreme Courts Limit on Maritime Damages Violated 7th Amendment Rights



“Pronouncing that they had ‘a free hand’ to create a rule that would otherwise be within the legislative province of Congress, the Supreme Court announced that in Maritime cases, punitive damages verdicts would be forever capped to never exceed an equal amount of compensatory damages. Justice John Paul Stevens noted in his dissenting opinion that ‘it is telling that the Court has failed to identify a single state court that has imposed a precise ratio.’ Many state legislatures had taken up this issue, and through the representatives of the people of each state, they determined appropriate ranges for such punitive awards. Notwithstanding the observations of Justice Stevens, the Exxon v. Baker Court sidestepped the process of a representative legislature for the sake of corporate protectionism.

Moreover, no consideration was given to the value of the Constitution and the Seventh Amendment specifically. The jury, in itself a microcosm of democracy, had considered all of the facts and arguments by expert lawyers representing both sides, including Exxon. Upon the facts presented, the jury set the damages award. By changing the punitive award in this case, the Supreme Court rejected the value of the jury system established in the Seventh Amendment, an amendment so important to our Founding Fathers that it was placed alongside such venerated rights as the freedom to bear arms, the freedom of association, the freedom of the press, the freedom of religion, the right to due process, and the right to protect us as citizens against unlawful search and seizures.”

Attorney Terence Perenich, writing on the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Exxon Shipping v. Baker case that artificially limits punitive damages in maritime cases to a 1:1 ratio to compensatory damages.