The Need for Enforcement of U.S. Punitive Damages Awards by the European Union
Posted: 28 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2010
This article explores the problems U.S. litigants face when attempting to enforce punitive damages judgments in E.U. Member States. The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements singles out such judgments for discriminatory treatment by allowing signatory countries to decline to enforce punitive damages awards rendered in other jurisdictions. While written neutrally so that the enforcement difficulties ostensibly run bilaterally, the effect of the provision is prejudice against litigants from the United States, which has a rich history of awarding punitive damages in civil suits.
The article demonstrates that the U.S. approach toward punitive damages is converging on the international approach; as the United States reduces its reliance on punitive damages, foreign jurisdictions are increasing theirs. Thus, the two sides are moving toward a shared middle ground, permitting a limited use of punitive damages both in terms of the types of cases in which they are awarded and the amounts that are authorized.
Given the premise that the two sides are no longer so diametrically opposed regarding punitive damages, the provision in the Hague Convention is all the more troubling because it provides a mechanism by which courts in the European Union may penalize U.S. plaintiffs’ interests. The article demonstrates that, by singling out punitive damages for different treatment, assuming that only the United States provides such damages, and permitting enforcing courts to exercise wide discretion in declining to enforce such judgments, the Hague Convention’s provision discourages efficiency, uniformity of treatment, and comity.
Keywords: punitive damages, international law, Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements, European Union
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