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The Federalization Of Punitive Damages And The Effect On Illinois Law

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This article is reprinted electronically with the express permission of Northern Illinois University Law Review. The article originally appeared in Volume 28, Summer 2008 at page 537 and can be retrieved and should be cited or quoted from the original published version found at 28 N. ILL. U. L. REV. 537.







As Justice O’Connor’s comments in Browning-Ferris make clear, the federalization of punitive damages was driven by a concern for the interests of big business. But instead of permitting states to police their own damage awards, the Supreme Court crafted a questionable remedy out of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, limiting the exposure of intentional and reckless wrongdoers whose reprehensible conduct has caused physical, emotional or financial injury. The Court’s punitive damage jurisprudence dispenses with the traditional deference afforded a jury’s decision, essentially converting its award of punitive damages into an advisory opinion subject to a reviewing court’s constitutional calculator. But punitive damages cannot be logically reduced to a mathematical formula. In applying the federal guideposts, courts must be cognizant that their role in reviewing the size of a punitive damage awards is to determine whether they fall within the broad parameters of a reasonable range, keeping in mind that the purpose of punitive damages is to punish and deter reprehensible conduct.