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Recent tort reform debates have been hindered by a lack of knowledge of how jurors assess damages. Two studies investigated whether jurors are able to appropriately compartmentalize compensatory and punitive damages. In Study I, mock jurors read a trial summary and were asked to assess compensatory and punitive damages in one of three conditions: (a) compensatory damages only, (b) punitive damages for the plaintiff, or (c) punitive damages for the state treasury. Results suggest that jurors who did not have the option to award punitive damages inflated compensatory damages via pain and suffering awards. Jurors were marginally more likely to award punitive damages when the plaintiff was the recipient. Mock jurors in Study 2 read a similar case summary and were asked to assess compensatory and punitive damages. Two factors were varied in Study 2: (a) egregiousness of the defendant's conduct, and (b) the recipient of any punitive damages (the plaintiff vs. a consortium of state funds). Jurors were more likely to award punitive damages when the defendant's conduct was more egregious and when the plaintiff was the recipient. The results suggest leakage between compensatory and punitive damage judgments, contrary to the law's mandate.

Originally published in: Law and Human Behavior, v. 23, no. 3, 1999, pp. 313-330.

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