Center for America

Speaker's Resource: 6. Punitive Damages, p 5



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Key Reference Citations (KRC)


Three separate studies have concluded that punitive damages awards are increasing in frequency and size:




In 1996, the 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.


This 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 cases:

  1. 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.

  2. The average punitive award grew from less than $1 million in 1984 to $6.6 million in 1994.

  3. 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.

  4. 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."

  5. These figures are conservative, and understate both the number of awards and the total amount of punitive damages levied.

Read the full summary from Pacific Research Institute

Read the 1996 report from Pacific Research Institute


* Nothing contained in this briefing is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.


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