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Punitive Damages in Maritime Law

The United States Supreme Court ruled recently on several issues related to maritime casualty. The opinion, Baker v. Exxon Shipping Co., deals with the availability of punitive damages under maritime law. Prior to this decision, the Supreme Court had yet to directly rule on whether punitive damages are appropriate under some circumstances. Before this ruling, it was generally believed that punitive damages can be awarded for tort damage to property. Exxon v. Baker looked also to studies of punitive damage awards in civil matters and found that there was a median ratio of 1:1. The Court held that the conduct of Exxon Shipping Co. was not one of “exceptional blameworthiness.” Under these circumstances a 1:1 ratio is a fair upper limit in such maritime cases.

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