Louisiana Law Review, Vol. 56, No. 4 (1996), pp. 841-872


Critics complain that punitive damages often serve no good purpose. Whatever the merit of this charge as a general proposition, it is not universally valid across the range of tort suits. This article examines the issues raised by punitive damages for constitutional torts and takes issue with the general failure of commentators on punitive damages to recognize differences between constitutional tort and common law torts. I shall argue that constitutional tort is one area where punitive damage awards are essential to the effective enforcement of our rights. Constitutional tort is a special domain, in which the policy issues that bear on ordinary tort liability have little importance. Here punitive damages play a role that is significantly different from their functions in general tort law. Far from heeding the cries of those who seek restrictions on punitive damages, the Supreme Court should take steps to make them more readily available in constitutional tort suits.