(CN) – The father of a 22-year-old soldier killed in the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military base in Saudi Arabia was awarded $5.15 million in punitive damages by a federal judge in Washington, D.C.
Joseph Rimkus had won a judgment against Iran, the Iranian Ministry of Information and Security and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2008, but the court awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and no punitive damages, because the laws at that time did not allow for punitive damages.
Rimkus’ son, Joseph Edward, was one of 19 U.S. Air Force personnel killed in the June 25, 1996 bombing of a military residence called Khobar Towers. Hundreds of others were injured in the blast, which reduced a building to rubble.
“At the time, this was the largest non-nuclear explosion to have ever occurred,” according to the ruling.
Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth noted that Congress has since enacted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which created a new state-sponsored terrorism exception that allows victims of terrorist acts to recover punitive damages.
With the new legislation, Rimkus filed an action seeking $2 billion in punitive damages.
“Rimkus I plainly establishes that a civil – indeed, an inhuman – wrong has occurred,” Lamberth wrote. “The court thus does not hesitate to permit plaintiff to pursue punitive damages here.”
Lamberth added that Rimkus’ action aligns with the intent of Congress in passing NDAA.
“The case before the court fits the model that Congress envisioned when passing the NDAA,” Lamberth wrote. “Here, Mr. Rimkus has already successfully pursued an action against defendants for their heinous conduct under the former exception and obtained a judgment for compensatory relief.”
In deciding to award $5.15 million in punitive damages, Lamberth cited a ruling in a seperate lawsuit against Iran that stemmed from the same terrorist attack that killed Rimkus’ son. In Heiser II, the court awarded $1.03 in punitive damages for every dollar of compensatory damages awarded.