Assessing Punitive Damages
University of California, San Diego
Cass R. Sunstein
Harvard Law School
Yale Law Journal, May 1998, fortchoming.
This essay reports and discusses the implications of an experimental study involving punitive damage awards. The study finds that in products liability cases, people's normative judgments (about outrageousness and appropriate punishment) are relatively uniform, at least when measured on a bounded numerical scale (0 to 6). With the unbounded dollar scale, however, outcomes become extremely erratic and unpredictable. Various reform proposals, designed to overcome erratic awards, are discussed, including damage caps, compensatory judgment "multipliers," and conversion formulas based on jury judgments on a bounded numerical scale. Implications are also discussed for many other issues of law and economic valuation, including compensatory damages in such areas as pain and suffering, libel, sexual harassment and other civil rights violations, contingent valuation, and intentional infliction of emtional distress.
Date posted: December 15, 1997