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.
CASE FACTS 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.
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. §
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. Suggested law school course materials, hornbooks, and guides for Constitutional Law
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