Supremes limit punitive damages

Dollars & Sense
Monday, March 1, 2004

March/April 2004

Punitive damages are designed to punish wrongdoers for intentional malicious conduct. Awarded over and above compensatory damages, they’re meant to teach a defendant a lesson and deter others from similar behavior.

In a widely overlooked decision, the U.S. Supreme Court recently reversed the long-standing practice of allowing juries to make independent decisions about how to punish corporate wrongdoing. The ruling will have far-reaching repercussions and may fundamentally shift the balance of power between individuals and corporations in society.

A key force behind the attack on consumers’ legal rights is a national anti-litigation network called "Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse" (CALA). The Center for Justice & Democracy and Public Citizen issued a report in 2000 about CALA’s corporate financing. It found "the money trail from many of these groups leads directly to large corporate donors, including tobacco, insurance, oil and gas, chemical and pharmaceutical companies, medical associations and auto manufacturers." Since the mid-1990s, CALA has been working with local business associations to "to ensure the election of pro-industry state judges and to ensure the defeat of judges who typically support plaintiffs’ verdicts or have voted to strike down state tort law restrictions as unconstitutional." As governor of Texas, George W. Bush was one of Texas CALA’s biggest boosters.

For a copy of the complete article, contact CJ&D.

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