Punitive Damages in Anglo American Law
The compensation logic in Continental European law is based on the principles of offsetting and proportionality to the damage incurred. We see that the ongoing practice of compensation in Anglo-American law is based on a much different basis. In the Turkish law, which is included in the Continental European legal system, the enrichment of the injured is prohibited while the compensation is ruled. Contrary to this prohibition of enrichment, it can be argued that in Anglo-American law, compensation can be awarded considerably higher than the damage incurred so that the compensation is a deterrent. Although this is mentioned as ‘’aggravated damages’’ in English law, today its name in American law is accepted as “punitive damages“.
While the punitive damages are being awarded, the act must be severe enough to be punished, and the compensation must be sufficiently punishable, since the purpose of punishing the act of the perpetrator is in question. It would not be wrong to say that this approach constitutes a manifestation of the principle of revenge in Roman Law. In this case, the problem is to determine what amount of compensation will serve the purpose of punishment for the injurious person. For this reason, the jury investigates the financial situation of the harming person before making a decision. The court ensures that the compensation serves the criminal purpose only in this way.
To mention the important examples of punitive compensatory damages in the USA, first case that comes into mind is Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants lawsuit. When the plaintiff and her grandson were driving around the US state of New Mexico they stopped at Mc Donald’s to buy some coffee. While the plaintiff were trying to put the coffee between her legs in her car and open the lid, the coffee is poured on her legs and her legs burns which a third degree burn occurs. Despite being treated for a long time, burns and traces on her legs that will not go away remain on the legs.
Victim plaintiff sues Mc Donald’s for giving “hotter coffee than it should be” and wins the two-year lawsuit. The court, which finds the plaintiff right, decides to make Mc Donald’s pay $ 2.8 million compensation to the plaintiff for serving her hotter coffee than ‘’it should be’’.
Another case is Cynthia Robinson v. R.J. In the Reynolds Tobacco Co case. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, the second largest cigarette company in the USA, was sentenced to pay $ 23.6 billion in compensation to a woman whose husband died of lung cancer for causing it with the cigarettes they sold. In another case which is Anderson,et. Al. Vs. General Motors Corp case; the world’s largest automotive company, General Motors (GM) was sentenced to pay $ 1.2 billion (approximately 533 trillion lira) in compensation for a woman injured by a manufacturing defect in a model.
In Mcdonald’s Corp. In the V. Bukele case, McDonald’s canceled the franchise agreement in the branch restaurants in 1996. Bukele is told that the franchise he has been operating for 24 years has expired and will not be renewed. Having a 1994 deal that he believes extended the franchise to 2014, Bukele refuses to close or rebrand his restaurants. McDonald’s wins the case in lower courts; however, the courts of appeal stand by Bukele, and in 2012 Mc Donald’s was finally ordered to pay Bukele a compensation of $ 23.9 million.
As a result, such judicial decisions, which are quite foreign to the Continental European legal system, are common in the USA. Although the system is also subject to criticism, the general practice is to prevent similar unjust acts with such decisions. The said practice goes beyond the logic of equalization and remediation, as well as satisfying the feelings of revenge in the face of the defendant’s damaged honor, loss of assets, physical and mental problems or other difficulties which they suffered due to the damage they suffered. Since there is no specific legal text to be applied to all these, the case is resolved by the court with the interpretation technique in accordance with the concrete situation within the framework of the basic principles of American Law.
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