Supreme Court Asks States to Reform Punitive Damages Laws

By Schwartz, Victor E. | State Legislatures, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Asks States to Reform Punitive Damages Laws


Schwartz, Victor E., State Legislatures


For the fifth time in the past six years, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments in a case challenging the constitutionality of a punitive damages award.

The case, TXO Production Corp. vs. Alliance Resources Corp. et. al., features a jury award of $19,000 compensatory damages and $10 million punitive damages--a ratio of more than 530 to 1.

The decision to hear this case came as a surprise because the Court had directly addressed the punitive damages issue in March 1991 in Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Co. vs. Haslip, now commonly known as the Haslip case.

In Haslip, the Court determined that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment placed restraints on the common law of punitive damages. Although the plaintiff in Haslip was successful in keeping her punitive damages award and the constitutionality of Alabama's law on punitive damages was upheld, the Court sent a wake-up call to state legislatures--the law of punitive damages in many states was out of control and needed to be fixed.

The Supreme Court said that punitive damages had "run wild" in this country, and "unlimited jury discretion in fixing punitive damages may invite extreme results that jar one's constitutional sensibilities." But the Court declined to "draw a mathematical bright line between the constitutionally acceptable and the constitutionally unacceptable that would fit every case." The Court indicated, however, that a punitive damage award of four times the compensatory award may be close to that line.

In the wake of the Haslip decision, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded 12 different punitive damages awards. The justices indicated that the Haslip opinion had constitutional teeth and that the Court was placing confidence and trust in state legislatures to clear up and clean up their punitive damages system. The Court's acceptance of the TXO case may signal a lack of patience with the state legislative process and a new willingness to articulate specific reforms.

The Courts vs. the Legislatures

Since Haslip, five appellate courts have held state punitive damages systems unconstitutional: Virginia, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee. Although these courts have tried to improve the punitive damages system, they may not be the best forum. I believe that role belongs to state legislatures. Courts deal only with narrow legal issues--they cannot invoke broad-based reform. Courts also lack the ability to hold hearings and consider the views of all interested parties in our society, i.e., doctors, manufacturers, consumers, organized labor. Legislatures, by way of contrast, can deal with the subject as a whole and can obtain information that will enable them to make sound public policy judgments.

Legislative Help Is Needed

The current system of uncertainties in punitive damages has created legal chaos. A recent General Accounting Office study shows that reversals of punitive damages awards in some states are running over 90 percent. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Supreme Court Asks States to Reform Punitive Damages Laws
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.