Trends in Punitive Damages

Preliminary Data from California

by Erik Moller

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This paper presents preliminary results of an Institute for Civil Justice analysis of trends in punitive damage awards. The data are drawn from Jury Verdicts Weekly, which reports verdicts in California Superior Court jurisdictions. The findings indicate that the actual number of punitive damage awards in each jurisdiction was quite modest, that punitive damages are awarded more frequently in some types of cases than others (punitive damages were most likely to be awarded in intentional tort cases and business and contract disputes), and that the number of punitive damage awards varies over time. Median and mean awards rose in San Francisco County from 1985-1989, but the maximum award and total amount of punitive damages awarded decreased. Finally, the proportion of total dollars awarded to plaintiffs that is attributable to punitive damages increased between the 1980-1984 and the 1985-1989 periods.

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