PUNITIVE DAMAGES IN
Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy
published a study of the nature and
extent of punitive damage awards in civil lawsuits
in the California courts.
paper analyzes 539 punitive damage jury awards of
more than $100,000 statewide for the period of
1984-1994 as reported in Jury Verdicts Weekly. We
made a closer analysis of 269 cases with jury awards
from 1990-1994 that included punitive damages of any
amount. Among the findings from analyzing these
Total punitive damages awarded,
1984-1994: Over $3 billion. The net amount of
punitive damages actually levied following
post-trial motions and appeals: $2.5 billion.
The average punitive award grew
from less than $1 million in 1984 to $6.6
million in 1994.
The overwhelming majority of
punitive damage awards during the 1990-1994
period were fully upheld by judges or on appeal.
Contrary to claims that punitive damage awards
are frequently reduced or vacated, our analysis
found that more than nine out of ten punitive
damage awards survived post-trial motions and
appeals without being reduced.
Within this limited database, the
amount of punitive damages fluctuates widely,
providing prima facie evidence that punitive
damages are unpredictable and arbitrary. Further
research, and a close comparison of similar
types of cases, will be required to determine
the extent to which punitive damage awards stem
from irrational "runaway verdicts" from juries
swayed by "passion and prejudice."
These figures are conservative,
and understate both the number of awards and the
total amount of punitive damages levied.
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Research Institute for Public Policy or as an
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