We acknowledge a variety of helpful comments from two referees.
Shifting the Fat-Tailed Distribution of Blockbuster Punitive Damages Awards
Version of Record online: 11 APR 2014
© 2014, Copyright the Authors. Journal compilation © 2014, Cornell Law School and Wiley Periodicals, Inc
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies
Volume 11, Issue 2, pages 350–377, June 2014
How to Cite
Viscusi, W. K. and McMichael, B. J. (2014), Shifting the Fat-Tailed Distribution of Blockbuster Punitive Damages Awards. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, 11: 350–377. doi: 10.1111/jels.12043
- Issue online: 11 APR 2014
- Version of Record online: 11 APR 2014
The distribution of blockbuster punitive damages awards has fat tails similar to the distributions of losses from natural disasters. Extremely large awards occur more often and are more difficult to predict than if blockbuster awards were distributed normally. The size and predictability of awards are important factors in the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions on punitive damages. This article examines the effect of the Court's decision in State Farm v. Campbell on blockbuster punitive damages awards. State Farm shifts the fat tail of the distribution of blockbuster awards down (or “thins” the tail), which is consistent with a restraining effect on award size. State Farm reduces the size of blockbuster awards in general, but this reduction is most salient in the upper half of the distribution of awards. State Farm also has a negative influence on the probability of exceeding a single-digit ratio between punitive and compensatory damages. This article also examines the largest awards and considers why defendants may not pay large punitive damages awards.