A CBS Outdoor (formerly Viacom) railroad trestle sign.

A federal jury awarded two billboard companies, Craig Outdoor and Midwest Outdoor, $125,000 each in tort damages against Viacom for swiping billboard sites that it tricked them into identifying.  Acting as agent for several railroads, Viacom asked for applications to build the big signs on rights of way and in the applications required the hopefuls to specify the locations they wanted.  But Viacom planned to take the best sites for itself and, after it got them, used false excuses for the railroads’ refusals of the applicants’ entreaties.  The jury looked unkindly on Viacom’s scheme and topped off the compensatory awards with punitives ones of $1,044,445 apiece.  Craig Outdoor Advertising, Inc. v. Viacom Outdoor, Inc., No. 06-3335 (8th Cir. June 4, 2008).

The Eighth Circuit affirmed the eight-times multiple over Viacom’s due process objection:

Although a ratio of actual to punitive damages in excess of eight to one may be constitutionally suspect, "there are no rigid benchmarks that a punitive damages award may not surpass."  State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 425 (2003).  We conclude that in this case, given Viacom’s deceitful conduct directed at Plaintiffs, the single-digit multiplier comports with due process.

Id., slip op. at 25 (footnote omitted).  The court also rejected Viacom’s argument that it set a 4:1 ratio as the upper constitutional limit in commercial cases.  Id. at 25 n.9 (distinguishing Eden Electric, Ltd. v. Amana Co., 370 F.3d 824, 828-29 (8th Cir. 2004), cert. denied, 543 U.S. 1150 (2005)).

Feedicon Our feed believes we’ll never see a billboard lovely as a tree.  Even from a train.