Punitive Damages - Something for Everyone?

25 Pages Posted: 24 May 2010

See all articles by Doug Rendleman

Doug Rendleman

Washington and Lee University - School of Law


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

Rendleman, Doug, Punitive Damages - Something for Everyone?. University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 7, pp. 1-24, 2010; Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2010-8. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1614927

Doug Rendleman (Contact Author)

Washington and Lee University - School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

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