Revisiting the United States Application of Punitive Damages: Separating Myth from Reality

ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 10, No. 1, p. 69, Fall 2003

25 Pages Posted: 23 May 2004

Abstract

This short article was written in the context of a graduate seminar while the author lived in Europe. It addresses the topic of punitive damages, which is often very controversial and poorly understood by European colleagues. The author attributes the poor understanding of the topic to numerous instances in the European press that discuss the famous (but entirely fictional) "cat in the microwave" case as a real, non-fictional instance of U.S. absurdity. In the European press - and even in European academic literature - the case is variously referred to as a cat, a dog, and even a baby. Perhaps even more dangerous, however, are the numerous instances in the European press that discuss the famous "McDonalds Coffee Spill Case," even though the case was reduced by the judge, settled out-of-court for an undisclosed sum and has absolutely no jurisprudential value. Nonetheless, the majority of Europeans wrongly believe (as evidenced by press articles published even in recent months) that the multi-million dollar jury verdict was the final turnout of the case.

This article attempts to supplement the dearth of literature available in Europe that presents the law of punitive damages in a concise, understandable format. It covers the two most prominent punitive damages cases, BMW v. Gore and State Farm v. Campbell.

After presenting this paper at the graduate seminar (in early 2003), the author was encouraged by colleagues to write companion versions (similar, but not identical) in French and German. The French and German versions are also available for download on SSRN, and were originally published in Global Jurist Advances (French) and Recht der Internationalen Wirtschaft (German) (note that the German paper was co-authored with Georg Wenglorz).

Keywords: Cat in microwave, dog in microwave, punitive damages, State Farm v. Campbell, U.S. v. Gore, McDonald's, coffee spill case, hot coffee

JEL Classification: K14, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Ryan, Patrick, Revisiting the United States Application of Punitive Damages: Separating Myth from Reality. ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 10, No. 1, p. 69, Fall 2003, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=545243

Patrick Ryan (Contact Author)

Berkeley Law ( email )

United States
303-669-5710 (Phone)

Stanford University ( email )

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