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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taxing Punitive Damages, coming soon

My colleague Gregg Polsky and I have a piece called Taxing Punitive Damages that we're pretty excited about, which we've just uploaded finally to SSRN. It's a draft and so we welcome comments and feedback. I may take the liberty of sharing some more of the paper in some coming posts, but in case I don't get to that soon, here's the link to the whole thing, and the abstract appears below:

There is a curious anomaly in the law of punitive damages. Jurors assess punitive damages in an amount that they believe will best “punish” the defendant. But, in fact, defendants are not always punished to the degree that the jury intends. Under the Internal Revenue Code, punitive damages paid by business defendants are tax deductible and, as a result, these defendants often pay (in real dollars) far less than the jury believed they deserved to pay. 

To solve this problem of under-punishment, many scholars and policymakers, including President Obama, have proposed making punitive damages nondeductible in all cases. In our view, however, such a blanket nondeductibility rule would, notwithstanding its theoretical elegance, be ineffective in solving the under-punishment problem. In particular, defendants could easily circumvent the nondeductibility rule by disguising punitive damages as compensatory damages in pre-trial settlements. 

Instead, the under-punishment problem is best addressed at the state level by making juries “tax aware.” Tax-aware juries would adjust the amount of punitive damages to impose the desired after-tax cost to the defendant. As we explain, the effect of tax awareness cannot be circumvented by defendants through pre-trial settlements. For this and a number of other reasons, tax awareness would best solve the under-punishment problem even though it does come at the cost of enlarging plaintiff windfalls. Given the defendant-focused features of current punitive damages doctrine, this cost is not particularly troubling. Nonetheless, a related paper of ours furnishes a strategy for overcoming this tradeoff through some basic reforms to punitive damages law.

Posted by Administrators on March 17, 2010 at 04:58 PM in Article Spotlight, Criminal Law, Dan Markel, Legal Theory, Retributive Damages | Permalink


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I thought readers might get a kick out the anonymous comment left on Above the Law regarding this paper:

Posted by guest | Permalink

It's going to take more than a law review article by two professors from a possibly unaccredited law school to change court's approach to punitive damages.

Posted by: Dan Markel | Mar 19, 2010 10:45:04 AM

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