No increase in punitive damages awards, study shows

A recent analysis of evidence from thousands of trials over a ten year period and across three data sets refutes the generally held view that (1) the amount of punitive damage awards has increased dramatically; (2) juries award punitive damages more frequently than judges; and (3) punitive damages are wildly out of sync with compensatory damages.

Wrong on all three counts, concludes a study, published in the July issue of Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, exploring the relation between punitive and compensatory damages and the rates at which judges and juries award them. Although current debate about tort reform suggests otherwise, empirical review of the data reveals that, in fact, the amount of punitive damages awards has not increased; judges award punitive damages at a higher rate than juries in personal injury cases; and the punitive damages awarded by juries and judges are highly correlated to compensatory damages.

As the authors of the study note, "Data reveal a more nuanced and complex picture of judge and jury behavior than does conventional wisdom, which typically rests precariously on unstudied assumptions and axioms." Their analysis of actual trial records has important implications for civil trials and the continuing debate over tort reform.


This study is published in the July issue of Journal of Empirical Legal Studies. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact [email protected]

The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies (JELS) is a peer-edited, peer-refereed, interdisciplinary journal that publishes high-quality, empirically-oriented articles of interest to scholars in a diverse range of law and law-related fields, including civil justice, corporate law, criminal justice, domestic relations, economics, finance, health care, political science, psychology, public policy, securities regulation, and sociology.

Theodore Eisenberg, JD, is Henry Allen Mark Professor at Cornell Law School. Professor Eisenberg is available for media questions and interviews.

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with 665 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 800 journals and, to date, has published more than 6,000 books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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