The US Supreme Court yesterday [Monday] refused to review a compensatory-damages award made against grocery group Kroger and a long-term employee who was partly at fault in a 1995 accident that left a truck driver disabled even after more than 50 surgical procedures.

The Court declined to overturn a verdict reached at a state appeals court in Indiana that itself upheld a jury verdict against the grocer and Ira C. Ritter. The plaintiffs had argued that the compensatory award was excessive, and out of sync with comparable judgements.

Insurers have been keeping a keen eye on the development of the case, as compensatory damages are often covered by some type of liability insurance.

The lawsuit related to an accident at Kroger's Indianapolis distribution centre. Jerry Stanton, a truck driver for a Kroger subsidiary, was at the facility to pick up a shipment of milk destined for Illinois when he was nearly crushed to death between a tractor-trailer and a semi-tractor driven by Ritter.

While both sides agreed that Stanton had suffered US$1.3m in damages against past medical costs, loss of earnings and lost future pension benefits, Stanton#;s attorneys argued he and his family should be awarded a further US$64m for future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium. The jury largely agreed, and eventually voted to award Stanton US$55m.

Kroger and Ritter took their appeal to the higher courts on the ground that their penalty was far higher than in comparable cases. However, the appeals court said it would contravene the US constitution if it questioned the jury#;s decision.

The Seventh Amendment says no fact tried by a jury can be “re-examined in any court of the United States.”