Cover: Punitive Damages

Punitive Damages

Preliminary Empirical Findings

Published 1985

by Mark A. Peterson


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This Note presents preliminary information on punitive damages awarded between 1959 and 1984 by juries in Cook County, Illinois, and San Francisco County, California. Findings confirm widespread perceptions that punitive awards have become both more frequent and larger, although only 45 percent of large punitive awards were actually paid by defendants. Punitive awards occur most frequently in trials involving intentional tort claims (assault, discrimination, and defamation), but trends have been stable for those cases. Punitive awards are less frequent for business torts or breach-of-contract claims, but the number and size of such awards have grown steadily, increasing greatly in the 1980s. Punitive awards were rare for personal injury cases based on negligence or strict liability but increased greatly in the 1980s in Cook County. Most punitive awards were against individual defendants, but businesses were assessed far larger awards.

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