Frontiers of Law in China
In a country such as China, with abundant consumer products and the inevitability of product defects, claims for punitive damages are sure to arise under Article 47 of the new Chinese Tort Law. Article 47 provides that “(w)hereany producer or seller knowingly produces or sells defective products, causing death or serious damage to the health of others, the injured party may request appropriate punitive damages.” As Chinese jurists and scholars interpret Article 47, they may wish to consider whether lessons can be drawn from the American experience. During the past two decades, few areas of American law have changed more radically that the law on punitive damages. While there were once few restraints on the ability of a judge or jury to impose punitive damages in a case involving egregious conduct, today there are a host of limitations embodied in American state and federal law. In many American states, statutes or judicial decisions restrict the ability of a court to award punitive damages by narrowly defining the types of conduct that will justify a punitive award, raising the standard of proof, capping the amount of punitive damages, requiring a portion of a punitive award to be forfeited to the state, or limiting vicarious liability for punitive damages. In addition, under federal constitutional law, the principle of due process limits the imposition of punitive damages by scrutinizing the ratio between compensatory and punitive damages and prohibiting an award to be based on harm to persons other than the plaintiff. An examination of these developments from a comparative law perspective may prove useful to the implementation of Article 47.
Vincent R. Johnson, Punitive Damages, Chinese Tort Law, and the American Experience, 9 Frontiers of Law in China 321 (2014).