Sunday, December 8, 2013

Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp. case brief

Silkwood v. Kerr-McGee Corp. case brief summary
464 U.S. 238 (1984)

Plaintiff, decedent's father, appealed a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which reversed a jury award of punitive damages in a tort suit against defendant nuclear power plant. The lower court held that punitive damages were preempted by federal energy law, including the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, 42 U.S.C.S. § 2011 et seq.

A decedent, before her death in an auto accident, suffered radiation injury resulting from her work at a nuclear power plant. The decedent's father, as administrator of her estate, was awarded $ 10 million in punitive damages by the jury in a state tort action for the nuclear power plant's negligence in allowing plutonium to escape from the plant. The nuclear power plant argued that punitive damages were preempted by federal law but the Court disagreed, finding that Congress did not intend to preempt state law tort remedies except where specifically indicated.

  • The Court, in its review of the legislative history of federal nuclear safety regulation, found that Congress assumed that state law tort remedies would remain available. 
  • The Court held that punitive damages were not preempted by the Atomic Energy Act, by 42 U.S.C.S. § 2282, or by 42 U.S.C.S. § 2013(d).
The Court reversed the judgment that found punitive damages inapplicable, remanding the case to allow the nuclear power plant to raise other objections that the Court had not considered, such as excessiveness of the verdict.

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