Invading the Realm of the Dead: Exploring the (Im)propriety of Punitive Damage Awards Against Estates

Punitive damages are traditionally understood, at least in part, as damages designed to punish. It should therefore come as no surprise that, in the majority of states that have decided the issue, courts have chosen not to allow punitive damage awards against the estates of deceased tortfeasors. After all, the tortfeasor can no longer be punished (at least by tort awards). Nonetheless, punitive damages can also serve other purposes, such as deterrence. This Note argues that Michigan, a state which has not yet taken a stance, should adopt the minority position that allows punitive damages to be awarded against estates. Because of Michigan’s historically liberal stance on the survival of actions and its unique understanding of punitive damage awards, this Note contends that the minority position is the only position consistent with state law. However, this Note also advocates for legislative action in order to make Michigan’s adoption of the minority position absolutely clear. Such clarity would promote stability and predictability for plaintiffs and defendants alike and would ensure results consistent with Michigan’s broader history and policies.