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Publication Punitive Damage Awards in State Courts, 2005

Thomas H. Cohen, J.D., Ph.D., Kyle Harbacek, Bureau of Justice Statistics

March 24, 2011    NCJ 233094

Presents findings on civil trials concluded in 2005 in a national sample of state trial courts in which punitive damages were requested or awarded. This BJS report discusses rates of punitive damage requests or awards in major civil categories, such as intentional tort, automobile accident, medical malpractice, product liability, and employment discrimination. The report describes differences in punitive damage activity by different pairings of plaintiff and defendant litigants; highlights findings on punitive damage award amounts; examines ratios of compensatory to punitive damage awards; and compares punitive damages in bench and jury trials. Lastly, it presents information on plaintiff and defendant post-trial and appellate activity in civil trials with punitive damages.


  • Litigants sought punitive damages in 12% of the estimated 25,000 civil trials concluded in 2005.
  • Plaintiffs received punitive damages in 30% of the 1,761 civil trials in which these damages were requested and the plaintiff prevailed.
  • The median punitive damage award was $64,000, and 13% of cases with punitive awards had damages of $1 million or more.

Full report (PDF 537K)
ASCII file (27K)
Spreadsheet (Zip format 33K)

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Civil Justice Survey of State Courts (CJSSC)

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