Benjamin J. McMichael & W. Kip Viscusi
Punitive damages remain unique in the American legal system. Awarded in the civil context with none of the protections offered in criminal law, courts levy punitive damages to punish and deter. The Supreme Court of the United States has clearly stated that courts may only seek to achieve these two goals when imposing punitive damages. A closer reading of the Court’s punitive damages jurisprudence, however, reveals another goal that has largely been ignored: predictability. Unlike
punishment and deterrence, predictability is not a purpose for which to award punitive damages. Instead, the Court requires that, when awarded, the level of punitive damages must be predictable. Failure to provide fair notice of the penalty for which a defendant may be liable amounts to a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause.