October 29, 2008

DOJ Report Contains Stats on State Court Punitive Awards

The U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, has released a report entitled Civil Bench and Jury Trials in State Courts, 2005, containing all sorts of interesting statistics regarding the outcomes of state court civil trials. For example, the median total award in civil trials in 2005 was $28,000, including compensatory and punitive damages. But as you would expect, the median award is considerably higher for certain types of cases. In asbestos cases, for example, the median total award is $682,000.

For our purposes, the most interesting stats are the punitive damages figures that appear on pages 6 and 7 of the report. There is too much information to repeat here, but some highlights include:

  • Plaintiffs recovered punitive damages in 700 of the 1,823 trials in which punitive damages were sought.
  • Punitive damages were awarded more frequently, and in higher amounts, in cases involving contract-related torts (e.g., tortious interference with contract, fraud, employment discrimination) than in tort cases not involving contractual relationships.
  • Punitive damages exceeded compensatory damages in 62% of cases involving contract-related torts and 37% in cases not involving contractual relationships.
  • Punitive damages were at least four times greater than compensatory awards in 26% of all trials where punitive damages were awarded.
  • Punitive damages exceeded compensatory damages by a ratio of 10 to 1 or greater in 17% of all trials where punitive damages were awarded.
I'm somewhat surprised by the statistics about contract-related tort claims. I would have thought those sorts of cases would generate lower punitive damages than cases involving personal injuries and deaths. But the opposite is true - - cases with purely economic injuries generate higher and more frequent punitive damages awards.

It bears noting that the study only reports the amounts awarded, and does not provide any statistics about the final punitive damages after post-trial motions and appeals.

No comments:

Post a Comment