It is Time for Washington State to Take a Stand Against Holmes’s Bad Man: The Value of Punitive Damages in Deterring Big Business and International Tortfeasors

In Washington State, tortfeasors get a break when they commit intentional torts. Instead of receiving more punishment for their planned bad act, intentional tortfeasors are punished as if they committed a mere accident. The trend does not stop in Washington State—nationwide, punitive damage legislation inadequately deters intentional wrongdoers through caps and outright bans on punitive damages. Despite Washington State’s one hundred and twenty-five year ban on punitive damages, it is in a unique and powerful position to change the way courts across the country deal with intentional tortfeasors. Since Washington has never had a comprehensive punitive damages framework, and has largely avoided the sway of the nationwide tort reform movement, it is a blank slate for demonstrating how punitive damages should be used to deter intentional wrongdoing in a fair and appropriate way. While law and economics theorists have debated how to reach complete deterrence, this Note’s argument takes reality into consideration in the form of binding Supreme Court precedent on punitive damages to provide a punitive damages framework that results in more deterrence than current punitive damages provide, and still passes constitutional scrutiny. This Note argues for a punitive damages framework based on graduated levels of culpability and correlated compensatory to punitive damage-award ratios to allow for as much deterrence of intentional wrongdoing as possible, while conforming to Supreme Court precedent.