St. Mary's Law Journal


This Comment will discuss Vice President Dan Quayle’s proposed legislation by reviewing the history of punitive damages and providing an overview of current state legislation. Thereafter, this Comment debunks the theory of an unruly punitive damage system and analyzes the impact of a punitive damages cap on competitiveness, quality, safety and the doctrine’s underlying goals. On August 13, 1991, Vice President Quayle, as head of the President’s Council on Competitiveness (the Council), addressed the American Bar Association’s annual meeting. He announced a fifty-point proposal designed to improve the civil justice system. Vice President Quayle proposed, inter alia, a cap on the amount of recoverable punitive damages not to exceed the amount of compensatory, or actual, damages. The Vice President’s recommendation came in response to the decline in America’s international competitiveness. Vice President Quayle argued punitive damage caps would allow businesses to research and create products without fear of excessive liability. The devastating impact of caps on punitive damages awards outweighs any potentially beneficial aspects of such limitations. Punitive damages caps dilute, if not eliminate, the essential and long-standing goals of punitive damages—punishment and deterrence. Additionally, such limitations encourage companies to make unscrupulous decisions between the safety and quality of their products and the potential cost of liability. In the area most likely to affect international competitiveness—products liability—studies show punitive damages awards remain infrequent and insignificant. Punitive damages are intended to punish and deter only the most egregious conduct. Therefore, companies have little to fear if they observe the necessary precautions when manufacturing a product. Punitive damages enhance competition by encouraging companies to manufacture products of a higher quality. If punitive damages hinder the development of products which have the potential for disastrous results, the doctrine served its purpose.


St. Mary's University School of Law