June 3, 2010

New Law Review Article: "Punitive Damages - Something for Everyone"

Doug Rendleman of Washington & Lee School of Law has posted an article on SSRN entitled "Punitive Damages - Something for Everyone."

Here's the abstract:

Common-law punitive damages have some feature that will upset everyone: A civil court meting out punishment. A sanction imposed after mere civil procedure. A private plaintiff receiving a “windfall” that exceeds any reasonable estimate of loss. And the Supreme Court wielding the discredited doctrine of substantive Due Process.

After the Exxon-Valdez’s massive oil spill washed on the shoals of maritime common-law punitive damages, a two-decade pavane featured an angry Alaska jury, a sympathetic trial judge, and a Court of Appeals trying to interpret and apply several muddled Supreme Court punitive-damages decisions. In the denouement, Exxon Shipping v. Baker, the Supreme Court imposed a reduction of the punitive damages that ended the protracted litigation without satisfying anyone.

This article was prepared for a University of St. Thomas Law Journal symposium on punitive damages following the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. It examines punitive damages’ controversial features, summarizes and criticizes the Supreme Court’s decision, and suggests legislative principles of confinement that will preserve common-law punitive damages.