MIAMI (Dec. 6)—Plaintiffs in a product liability case involving Firestone tires on a Ford Explorer are entitled to seek punitive damages despite suffering no physical injury, the Florida 4th District Court of Appeals has ruled.
The evidence at trial showed that Bridgestone/Firestone delayed warning the public about alleged defects in the tires to protect itself financially, the court ruled. A defendant engaging in wrongful conduct for economic gain is liable for up to $2 million in punitive damages under Florida law, said Stewart Williams, one of the attorneys for plaintiff Carolyn Holmes.
"I think this case is extremely significant, given that it's the first one so far in which an appeals court has ruled that the facts alone are enough to warrant the award of punitive damages," Williams said.
Bridgestone/Firestone said it will either request a rehearing before the appeals court or take the case to a higher court.
"We strongly believe the decision is not consistent with Florida law, which requires that the trial court determine, on the basis of admissible evidence, that there is a reasonable basis for the recovery of punitive damages," the company said in a prepared statement. The appeals court never saw the real evidence, BFS added, but only "inaccurate and highly colored" information from the consumer activist group Public Citizen.