I considered putting this in GQ (“Why do punitive damages go to the plaintiff instead of the state?”) but thought I’d get more meaningful input by starting a debate and, hopefully, hearing a counterargument.
Most tort reform discussions that involve punitive damages (p.d.) (“exemplary damages” in the UK, apparently) usually prescribe some kind of cap. But ever since I first encountered the idea of p.d., the whole thing seemed counterintuitive: the plaintiff first gets compensatory damages. Thus is justice served for the wronged party. But then the defendant is made to pay p.d. to the plaintiff. I understand that sometimes compensatory damages are insufficient deterrent for whatever the defendant was doing wrong, and thus p.d. are justified. But why should the money go to the plaintiff? Wouldn’t the punishment and deterrent be equal if the money went to some disinterested third party, like the government?
Making p.d.s go to the gov’t would, IMHO, reduce the volume and degree of frivolous lawsuits.
I really don’t see any reason why plaintiffs (and their attorneys), after being duly compensated, should receive any more money. If I’m missing something huge and obvious here, please enlighten me.