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Huge punitive damage awards make headlines. Just last month, for example, an Oregon jury awarded almost $80 million in punitive damages to the family of a 40-year smoker who was found to be 50 percent responsible for his own death. In late 1997 a Louisiana jury ordered CSX to pay $3.4 billion for a railroad car fire although CSX merely owned the track and no one was seriously injured. In well-scripted reactions to such awards, plaintiffs lawyers praise the jury’s wisdom, defense lawyers vow to appeal its “preposterous” verdict, and insurers liken it to a Powerball lottery. We academics try to put it all in perspective.

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