(CN) - A federal judge said Iran must pay punitive damages to the relatives of an Ohio man killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing, though he indicated the award will likely be less than the family's request for $300 million.
The mother and siblings of Harry Beer, one of 17 people killed in the suicide-bombing of a bus in 2003 by Hamas, won a $13 million compensatory judgment against Iran in 2008.
A doctor who witnessed the bombing testified that Beer survived "in great pain" for a few hours before dying on the way to the hospital, according to the ruling.
The district court in Washington, D.C., awarded Beer's family $13 million in compensatory damages, finding that Iran had provided support and encouragement to Hamas and was legally responsible for Beer's death. The court rejected the Beer's request for $300 million in punitive damages, however, because the law at the time did not allow such awards.
Beer's family renewed their claim after the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act in 2008, which created a new state-sponsored terrorism exception allowing victims of terrorist acts to recover punitive damages.
"Suicide bombings are a horrific, and all too common, method of terror employed by Hamas and other terrorist organizations," wrote Chief Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in a ruling Thursday. "The court shares in plaintiffs' grief over this tragic loss of Alan Beer, and admires their bravery in taking steps in trying to prevent further malicious attacks from occurring in the future."
But Lamberth stopped short of approving the family's request for $300 million, finding that it may be excessive considering that there was only one victim and three plaintiffs involved.
Lamberth wrote that a $300 million award would establish a punitive-to-compensatory ratio of $25 or $30 to $1 - larger than that of the awards for the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Beruit and the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia.
In a November ruling, Lamberth awarded $5.15 million to the family of a soldier killed in the Khobar Towers, using a ratio of $1.03 in punitive damages for every dollar of compensatory damages awarded.
Lamberth added Thursday that Iran was less involved in the bombing that killed Beer than it was in Khobar Towers, so a new ratio may be required.
"In light of these established ratios, a measure of $25 to $30 might appear to be inappropriate," Lamberth wrote. "Combined with the issue relating to the general excessiveness of the potential ratio in this case, as explored above, these concerns raise serious questions about the proper measure of punitive damages in this case."
To quell his doubts, Lamberth decided to reserve judgment as to the amount of the damages and allow the plaintiffs to address the ratio issue.
"While the court is all too aware that any punitive damages levied in this case will bring little comfort to Mr. Beer's family, it takes solace in the hope that such measures may help prevent another family from suffering such a terrible loss, and it awaits plaintiffs' view as to the appropriate punitive measures here," Lamberth wrote.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.