Punishment for Ecological Disasters: Punitive Damages and/or Criminal Sanctions
30 Pages Posted: 15 Jun 2010 Last revised: 26 Jul 2010
Date Written: Fall 2009
This article addresses the means of punishing conduct that causes serious environmental harm like the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In particular, it considers the appropriateness and effectiveness of both punitive damages and criminal sanctions as remedies in such cases in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's approaches to reviewing both punitive damages awards and criminal sentences for excessiveness. This article recommends, first, that state legislatures should authorize and regulate punitive damages so that appellate courts will not interfere with punitive damages awards, as happened in the Exxon case. Second, states should enforce criminal provisions in environmental statutes against both corporate and individual offenders in order to enhance the deterrent effect that such laws have on corporations and their policies, and to express the moral outrage occasioned by culpable conduct harming the environment.
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