Research Handbook on the Economics of Torts
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Research Handbook on the Economics of Torts

Edited by Jennifer H. Arlen

This pioneering Handbook contains specially-commissioned chapters on tort law from leading experts in the field. This volume evaluates issues of vital importance to those seeking to understand and reform the tort law and the litigation process, taking a multi-disciplinary approach, including theoretical economic analysis, empirical analysis, socio-economic analysis, and behavioral analysis. Topics discussed include products liability, medical malpractice, causation, proximate cause, joint and several liability, class actions, mass torts, vicarious liability, settlement, damage rules, juries, tort reform, and potential alternatives to the tort system. Scholars, students, legal practitioners, regulators, and judges with an interest in tort law, litigation, damages, and reform will find this seminal Handbook an invaluable addition to their libraries.
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Chapter 19: Economic analysis of punitive damages: Theory, empirics, and doctrine

Catherine M. Sharkey


Punitive damages have been a part of the civil law landscape in the United States since the nineteenth century, but the past two decades have witnessed a firestorm of renewed interest and debate over this supra-compensatory remedy, whose goals are to punish and to deter wrongful behavior. At first glance, this intense interest may seem puzzling given how rarely punitive damages are awarded. Punitive damages are at the tip of the tip of the iceberg in the civil justice system. The number of cases going to trial is very small, on the order of 3–5percent of civil cases filed in state court (Galanter, 2004: 509 tbl.5). Of those tried cases, punitive damages are awarded in a small minority—less than 5 percent of cases in state courts (Del Rossi & Viscusi, 2010: 138 n.36; Eisenberg & Heise, 2011: 6; Hersch & Viscusi, 2004: 24 tbl.2). So, what explains the sustained interest in what is, as an empirical matter, a very extraordinary, rarely imposed remedy? First, punitive damages are awarded much more frequently in certain types of cases.

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