Bert Co. v. Turk, 2023 Pa. LEXIS 950, 2023 WL 4607874 (July 19, 2023) (Donohue, J.) In this appeal by permission, we consider the application of jurisprudence of the United State Supreme Court addressing the constitutionality of an award of punitive damages by a civil jury in this Commonwealth. We specifically address the ratio calculation first discussed in BMW of North America, Inc. v. Gore, 517 U.S. 559, 116 S. Ct. 1589, 134 L. Ed. 2d 809 (1996), and developed in State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 123 S. Ct. 1513, 155 L. Ed. 2d 585 (2003). The Superior Court calculated the punitive to compensatory damages ratio using a per-defendant approach, as calculated by the trial court, which resulted in ratios ranging from 1.81 to 1 to 6 to 1, rather than a per-judgment approach, which resulted in a ratio of 11.2 to 1. For the reasons discussed, we generally endorse the per-defendant approach as consistent with federal constitutional principles that require consideration of a defendant’s due process rights. Further, we conclude that under the facts and circumstances of this case, it was appropriate to consider the potential harm that was likely to occur from the concerted conduct of the defendants in determining whether the measure of punishment was both reasonable and proportionate. Thus, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.
We decline again to impose a bright-line ratio which a punitive damage award cannot exceed. Our jurisprudence and the principles it has now established demonstrate, however, that in practice, few awards exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages, to a significant degree, will satisfy due process. In Haslip, in upholding a punitive damages award, we concluded that an award of more than four times the amount of compensatory damages might be close to the line of constitutional impropriety. We cited that 4-to-1 ratio again in Gore. The [Gore] Court further referenced a long legislative history, dating back over 700 years and going forward to today, providing for sanctions of double, treble, or quadruple damages to deter and punish. While these ratios are not binding, they are instructive. They demonstrate what should be obvious: Single-digit multipliers are more likely to comport with due process, while still achieving the State’s goals of deterrence and retribution.
State Farm, 538 U.S. at 425 (citing Haslip, 499 U.S. at 23-24, and Gore, 517 U.S. at 581 & n.33). Former S.S.Civ.J.I. § 14.02 was renumbered in 2005 to § 8.2 and edited to exclude the provision that an award of punitive damages “need not bear any relationship to the amount” awarded as compensatory damages. Inexplicably—in that the Defendants requested the current version of the instruction in their proposed jury instruction number 52—the trial court used the former version, to which the Defendants objected. On appeal, the Defendants challenged the ratio of compensatory to punitive damages but did not otherwise challenge the jury instruction. As discussed, the issues upon which we granted allowance of appeal were narrowly tailored to address the appropriate calculation of the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages required by Gore. Having concluded that the appropriate methodology is the per-defendant approach, none of the resulting ratios applicable to the individual Defendants’ punitive damages awards exceeds the single-digit ratio earmarked by the High Court in State Farm as potentially constitutionally suspect. State Farm, 538 U.S. at 425. The Defendants’ argument regarding a ratio in excess of a single digit (i.e., the global ratio of 11.2 to 1) is moot in that it is based on a calculation of the ratio using the per-judgment approach. We have rejected the Defendants’ preferred methodology. In this appeal involving a challenge based on the alleged unconstitutional excessiveness of punitive damages awards against multiple defendants, we granted discretionary review to consider the appropriate ratio calculation that is part of the due process analysis contemplated by the second guidepost articulated in Gore and further refined in State Farm: the relationship of the punitive verdict to the harm or potential harm suffered by the victim. Gore, 517 U.S. at 575; State Farm, 538 U.S. at 425. We adopt the per-defendant approach to calculate the ratio, where the punitive damages award is the numerator and the compensatory damages award is the denominator. This methodology reflects the impact of the punitive verdict on each of the Defendants as required under the Due Process Clause. Based on the agreement of the parties in this case, a jury entered a single compensatory damages award against the Defendants who were jointly and severally liable to the plaintiff, Northwest. The jury entered separate punitive damages awards against each of the Defendants in varying amounts. Although the jury was not instructed to allocate responsibility among the Defendants for the harm caused to Northwest, we conclude that the per-defendant methodology is appropriate. The calculation for each of the Defendants includes the total compensatory damages award as the denominator and the individual punitive damages awards as the numerator. This methodology for calculating the ratio in this case reflects the instruction to the jury that the harm to Northwest was indivisible and stays true to both the purpose of assessing the Defendants’ individual due process rights and joint and several liability principles incorporated by the parties into the verdict. Where, as here, the record includes evidence of the potential harm intended by the Defendants and the jury was instructed that such harm could be considered in its award of punitive damages, the Superior Court did not err in considering the amount of potential harm as part of its consideration of the relationship between the punitive damages awards and the compensatory damages award. While the value of the potential harm is not directly added to the compensatory damages award to create a new denominator in the ratio, it is a relevant factor to consider in evaluating whether a punitive damages award is excessive. In the absence of any other basis to review the constitutionality of the punitive damages awards based on the scope of our allowance of appeal, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.