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Published On: Wed, Apr 19th, 2017

Supreme Court Sides with Goodyear in Personal Injury Case

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court sided with Goodyear Rubber & Tire Co. on Tuesday in a dispute over a $2.7 million penalty the company was ordered to pay in a personal injury case. The hefty penalty was to be paid to an Arizona family as reimbursement for their legal fees, the AP reports.

The family, which was injured in a motor home incident in 2003, sued Goodyear after a tire failed on the vehicle and caused it to flip off the road.

The case settled in 2010, but the family discovered afterward that the company did not turn over key testing data.

The Supreme Court has sent the case back to a lower court, which will determine whether the family is entitled to the entire $2.7 million award.

A federal judge ordered the payout, stating that nearly all of the family’s attorney fees could be blamed on the misconduct. A federal appeals court agreed.

The Supreme Court, however, sided with Goodyear and ordered the lower court to apply the appropriate legal standard.

Photo/Nodar Kherkheulidze via wikimedia commons

Justice Elena Kagan said the penalty must be limited to the fees incurred solely because of the misconduct. The company’s failure to disclose the data did not make it entirely responsible for every legal fee incurred in the case.

“A district court has broad discretion to calculate fees awarded under the standard,” Kagan wrote. “But because the court here granted legal fees beyond those resulting from the litigation misconduct, its award cannot stand.”

The lower court said that while attorneys fees are normally the legal fees incurred due to the misconduct, courts may award all legal fees in cases involving egregious behavior.

The case was argued before newly-confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch who took his seat on the bench.

Gorsuch’s first blockbuster case as a Justice on the Supreme Court involves a Missouri church playground. At the heart of the case is two major issues: religious freedom and taxpayer funding.

The Lutheran church sued after being denied a state grant to improve their playground’s surface used by the preschool. The program provides funds to nonprofits looking to make their outdoor play areas safer. The church had hoped to use the funds to replace the gravel with softer material.

Gorsuch will play a role in deciding whether the exclusion of churches from the government program is a violation of the Free Exercise and Equal Protection clauses in the Constitution.

Under Missouri law, direct government aid cannot be awarded to institutions with religious affiliation. About three dozen other states have similar laws.

The high court accepted the petition for review in January 2016 when Justice Antonin Scalia was still living. After his death, one month later, the case was put on hold. The case was put on the argument schedule in time for Gorsuch to possibly play a role in the deciding vote.

The Goodyear decision was one of two handed down by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, including Coventry Health Care of Mo., Inc. v. Nevils.

The Court also heard arguments on the Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc. And Kokesh v. SEC.

Author: Jacob Maslow

On the DISPATCH: Headlines  Local  Opinion

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