March 19, 2015

Big punitive damages awards that will never be paid

Yesterday, Courthouse News reported on an award of $14 million in punitive damages against the government of Sudan for its role in the terrorist bombing of the USS Cole.

Today, Arkansas Online reported a $105 million punitive damages award against a doctor who injured the former chairman of the Arkansas State Medical Board in a bomb attack.

These awards express strong condemnation of the conduct at issue, but they are largely symbolic. The defendant in the Arkansas case is in jail and probably can't pay much of the $17.5 million compensatory damages award against him, let alone $100 million in punitive damages.  And good luck collecting anything from Sudan.  We have reported on many big punitive damages verdicts against foreign governments in cases involving terrorism, including a $6 billion award for the September 11 attacks, but we have yet to see any indication that the defendants in these cases ever pay a penny.  If anyone knows of a plaintiff who was able to collect on such an award, we'd love to hear about it.