The Summer 2008 edition of the Hastings International and Comparative Law Review contains an article entitled "Recognition and Enforcement of U.S. Punitive Damages Awards in Continental Europe: the Italian Supreme Court's Veto." (31 Hastings Int'l & Comp. L. Rev. 753.) The article is written by Francesco Quarta, an L.L.M. candidate at Hastings and a research scholar on the law faculty of Università del Salento, in Lecce, Italy.
The article focuses primarily on the Italian court system's refusal to enforce a $1 million judgment entered against an Italian bicycle manufacturer in a wrongful death action in federal district court in Alabama. Alabama law is rather unusual in that punitive damages are the only form of damages recoverable in wrongful death actions. In this case, the plaintiffs' sought to enforce the judgment in Italy, but an intermediate appellate court in Venice ruled that the judgment was unenforeceable because punitive damages are not recognized under Italian law. The Italian Supreme Court affirmed.
The article maintains that, in general, refusal to enforce U.S. punitive damages awards is consistent with Italian law. The article suggests, however, in cases where an award is nominally designated as punitive but contains some compensatory element (as is apparently the case with Alabama wrongful death awards), Italian courts should make some effort to separate the compensatory and punitive components of the awards, instead of rejecting such awards in their entirety. The article also suggests that Italian courts should refuse to enforce some U.S. compensatory damages awards, such as emotional distress awards, to the extent they contain a punitive component.
For whatever reason, European views on American punitive damages awards seems to be a hot topic now.