punitive damages17 May 2004
SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wants taxpayers to get the lion’s share of any punitive damage awards from lawsuits in California.
His proposal that the state take 75 percent of any award is tucked into the revised $103 billion budget presented to lawmakers this week. It’s drawing criticism from trial lawyers who say the money belongs to victims who win monetary damages by suing negligent carmakers, deceptive cigarette companies or fast-food restaurants that serve coffee too hot.
The Republican governor argues that the victims are compensated by separate awards for actual injury or loss. He wants the bulk of punitive awards to go into a Public Benefit Trust Fund.
The administration projects the state could get $450 million from the lawsuits each year, based on a McGeorge School of Law tally of nearly $6.4 billion in punitive awards from 1991 to 2000 in California.
This is a spectacular idea, and the criticisms of the trial lawyers are completely without base – punitive damages are separate from compensation for the plaintiff. This type of wealth redistribution could work wonders for curbing our nation’s litigious tendencies.