Psychology, Department of


Document Type


Date of this Version

June 2001


Published in Law and Human Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3, (2001), pp. 217–234. Copyright © 2001 American Psychology-Law Society, Division 41 of the American Psychology Association. Published by Springer Verlag. Used by permission.


In response to concerns that jury awards in tort cases are excessive and unpredictable, nearly every state legislature has enacted some version of tort reform that is intended to curb extravagant damage awards. One of the most important and controversial reforms involves capping (or limiting) the maximum punitive damage award. We conducted a jury analogue study to assess the impact of this reform. In particular, we examined the possibility that capping punitive awards would cause jurors to inflate their compensatory awards to satisfy their desires to punish the defendant, particularly in situations where the defendant’s conduct was highly reprehensible. Relative to a condition in which punitive damages were unlimited, caps on punitive damages did not result in inflation of compensatory awards. However, jurors who had no option to award punitive damages assessed compensatory damages at a significantly higher level than did jurors who had the opportunity to do so. We discuss the policy implications of these findings.