Punitive Damages - Something for Everyone?
25 Pages Posted: 24 May 2010
Common-law punitive damages have some feature that will upset everyone: A civil court meting out punishment. A sanction imposed after mere civil procedure. A private plaintiff receiving a “windfall” that exceeds any reasonable estimate of loss. And the Supreme Court wielding the discredited doctrine of substantive Due Process.
After the Exxon-Valdez’s massive oil spill washed on the shoals of maritime common-law punitive damages, a two-decade pavane featured an angry Alaska jury, a sympathetic trial judge, and a Court of Appeals trying to interpret and apply several muddled Supreme Court punitive-damages decisions. In the denouement, Exxon Shipping v. Baker, the Supreme Court imposed a reduction of the punitive damages that ended the protracted litigation without satisfying anyone.
This article was prepared for a University of St. Thomas Law Journal symposium on punitive damages following the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. It examines punitive damages’ controversial features, summarizes and criticizes the Supreme Court’s decision, and suggests legislative principles of confinement that will preserve common-law punitive damages.
Keywords: Federal Courts, Litigation, Oil Spill
JEL Classification: K10, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation