Punitive damages: Empirical findings.

Peterson, M., Sarma, S., & Shanley, M. (1987). Punitive damages: Empirical findings. Santa Monica, CA: Rand/Institute for Civil Justice.

Based on cases that reached jury verdict in Cook County, Illinois, and San Francisco, California, from 1960 to 1984, this report presents analytically derived answers to questions surrounding the award of punitive damages: (1) how frequently punitive damages are awarded in civil suits, (2) what types of cases and defendants are most subject to such awards, and (3) what proportion of the monies awarded in punitive damages is actually paid out. The findings confirm trends for which there had only been anecdotal evidence: The incidence of punitive damage awards (measured by proportion of cases in which such awards are made) and the amount of money (measured in constant 1984 dollars) awarded for punitive purposes have increased substantially over the years. Corporate defendants are in fact more likely than individuals or public agencies to be the target of such awards. Many damage awards are significantly reduced and only about half of the dollars awarded are ultimately paid subsequent to award at the trial court level.

Punitive awards were rare and usually modest, but mean and median increased dramatically over time in both counties. Likelihood varied as a function of case type (much higher for business contracts and intentional torts) and jurisdiction. Punitive damages generally proportional to compensatory damages, somewhat higher when defendant was a business.