Reconciling Experimental Incoherence with Real-World Coherence in Punitive Damages

31 Pages Posted: 1 Feb 2002  

Theodore Eisenberg

Cornell University, Law School (Deceased)

Jeffrey J. Rachlinski

Cornell Law School

Martin T. Wells

Cornell University - Law School

Abstract

Experimental evidence generated in controlled laboratory studies suggests that the legal system in general, and punitive damages awards in particular, should display an incoherent pattern. According to the prediction, inexperienced decision makers, such as juries, should fail to convert their qualitative judgments of defendants' conduct into consistent, meaningful dollar amounts. This Article tests this prediction and finds modest support for the thesis that experience across different types of cases will lead to greater consistency in awards. Despite this support, numerous studies of damage awards in real cases detect a generally sensible pattern of damage awards. The article tries to reconcile the largely coherent pattern of real-world results with the experimental findings and suggests that careful attention to sources of coherence and incoherence can help reconcile experimental and real-world results.

JEL Classification: K4

Suggested Citation

Eisenberg, Theodore and Rachlinski , Jeffrey J. and Wells, Martin T., Reconciling Experimental Incoherence with Real-World Coherence in Punitive Damages. Stanford Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=297358 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.297358

Theodore Eisenberg

Cornell University, Law School (Deceased) ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Martin T. Wells

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Comstock Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States
607-255-8801 (Phone)

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