October 2000 News

Supreme Court to review lawsuit outcome

October, 2000, Portland, OR - The U.S. Supreme Court has announced it will consider a portion of a lawsuit filed by Leatherman Tool Group against Cooper Industries.

Cooper had appealed lower court rulings ordering it to pay more than $4 million in damages, claiming the award was unconstitutionally excessive and the lower courts used the wrong criteria in reviewing the original trial judge's decision not to reduce the amount awarded by the jury. The high court has refused to reconsider the jury award.

According to Leatherman attorney J. Peter Staples, the issue accepted by the Supreme Court is not whether the amount awarded by the jury is too much, but whether the appeals court used the right test to review the trial judge's decision not to reduce the damages.

The case began in August 1996 when Tim Leatherman was at the National Hardware Show in Chicago and saw a photograph he believed to be a slightly modified Leatherman Pocket Survival Tool being used to advertise an imitation tool that Cooper was introducing at the show. Leatherman promptly sued Cooper in federal court, charging trade dress infringement and false advertising.

A jury found for Leatherman in October 1997, awarding $50,000 in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages. The trial judge and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld this award.

"Leatherman Tool Group is pleased the Supreme Court does not want to reconsider whether the jury award was excessive," said Roger Bjorklund, the company's vice president of marketing. "We're confident the Supreme Court will agree that the jury's award was properly reviewed and approved by the trial judge and appeals court."

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case in February 2001. A decision is expected next summer.