Psychology, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law 16:4 (2010), pp. 393–417; doi: 10.1037/a0020933 Copyright © 2010 American Psychological Association. Used by permission. “This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record.”


Punitive damages are a tool for punishing defendants who engage in reckless and wanton behaviors that cause injury to others. As with criminal punishment, goals of punitive damages include retribution, specific deterrence, and general deterrence. Unlike criminal punishment, however, some courts allow punitive damages to follow the death of defendants. To explore this issue, we first conducted a legal analysis of appellate court decisions concerning punitive damages against deceased defendants. While the majority of courts suggest that punitive damages against deceased individuals are not appropriate, some argue that favorable policy implications of allowing punitive damages to follow the defendant’s death merit their survivability. Next, we conducted a simulation study to investigate the effects of defendant injury severity, including death, on juror decisions in a punitive damages case. Consistent with some judicial reasoning, mock jurors’ liability and damage awards were not influenced by a defendant’s injury severity, but defendant death did influence participants’ self-reported goals of their punitive damage awards. We conclude with a discussion of policy and research implications.